May 12th, 2005

Salt Precaution

Adventures in Human Land

Only managed about three hours of sleep for Tuesday night before I was awakened early Wednesday morning by a loud radio somewhere and my stomach reminding me that I hadn't eaten dinner. Before going to sleep, I'd had the thought that I might go to Einstein Bagels for breakfast. Since in the morning my mind hadn't yet reacquired the ability to create new thoughts, I immediately went ahead with that plan.

I decided after my humus and feta on ciabatta that I would go downtown by trolley and then walk up to Hillcrest in order to see Palindromes at the Landmark, the only theatre in San Diego county where that movie was playing.

Before getting on the trolley, I thought it best to use the bathroom, so I stopped in at Target. In the Target men's room, there was a man and a woman, both between fifty and fifty five years old. The man was saying something about his ex-wife and the woman had her pants around her ankles while trying to pee standing up. The first thing I saw when I walked in was her square shaped ass. So I turned around and left.

I was entertained on the trolley ride downtown by a gumball left on the window sill beside me by a mentally impaired gentleman. It stuck at first, but then began to roll from one side of the sill--away from me--to the other--towards me. This gave me something to look at since the games on my phone have stopped working--well, in Spacedudes, I'm still able to move my ship, by the aliens don't move and neither do my missiles. And in Brick Attack, there's simply no ball with which my paddle might attack said bricks. What if Mario woke up to find every koopa, every goomba, every piranha plant, had simply disappeared in the night? It must be a lonely thing.

But the gumball was veiled from me eventually by a young man who wanted to recline and watch me from under his hood after I'd taken a moment to show my ticket to a police officer. I thought about telling the young man about the gumball he was leaning on, but I was too amused by the idea of Little Mister Badass walking around with a shiny pink gumball stuck to his shoulder.

I got to Hillcrest with about an hour to spare, so I went in a bookstore looking for an Ann Sexton book. Sexton's been spoken well of by a variety of people in my world lately and I've never read her--so I thought some poems would be good to read while waiting for a movie to start. But of the three bookstores on that street, not one had an Ann Sexton book of any sort. At the last one, a place called Bluestocking Books and Bindings, there were several feminist posters up so I sort of had high hopes. But the poetry section was very sparse.

As I left, I asked the skinny blond woman behind the counter if Ann Sexton was indeed filed under poetry.

"Yes!" She sounded very pleased, "That's a good question, I'm glad you asked . . . We don't have any."

The place also had an adorable poster of Han Solo in carbonite, decorated with a glittering purple boa. There was something strangely Amazonian about it.

So, Palindromes was a decent movie. The only Todd Solondz movie I'd previously seen was Storytelling, which had a little bit of a clearer agenda.

Palindromes tells the story of a 13 year old girl named Aviva who wants lots of babies more than anything else in the world. She's played throughout the movie by a variety of different actresses of different ages, sizes, and colours--but all are meant to represent 13 year old Aviva. This is perhaps the most overt statement in the movie about Solodz's essentially anti-existential idea; no matter what we look like or where we are, we're always the same, and we'll always do the same things. We're cursed to live without free will.

Or maybe the most overt statement of that idea is when Matthew Faber's character, who somewhat resembles Solodz, comes right out and says it. The above is almost a paraphrase.

Anyway, Aviva's strategy to get pregnant results in one of the movie's funniest sequences. She hangs out in the bedroom of a family friend's son, who is about her age. The walls are covered with cheesy photos of naked women, the boy is wearing a shirt bearing a cartoon man with an erection, and he seems to think nothing of sitting down with Aviva to watch a pornographic movie. Aviva takes it much better and a lot more innocently (probably because she's only 13) than Cybil Shepherd did in Taxi Driver, and she manages, despite the boy's somewhat poor sexual performance, to get herself pregnant.

Aviva's mother, played by Ellen Barkin, is understandably upset, but here Solodz does an interesting thing. Aviva's mother tries in a variety of ways to explain to Aviva why she needs to get an abortion but Aviva stubbornly refuses. Aviva's innocent, childish desire to have a baby to hold and love is somewhat endearing making Barkin's pleas, however rational they might be, begin to sound selfish and ogre-ish. So this film is not a black and white pro-choice, pro-life, but instead uses abortion as a plot device, and not a plot point. Which is really, in my opinion, the best thing to do with it in fiction. The only people who respond well to preaching are people who agree with the preacher. Everyone else is merely annoyed.

So Aviva is guilt-tripped into an abortion, after which she runs away, hitch-hiking, and adventures happen, and things really do feel like a fable, which is how Solodz describes the movie.

One segment of the film, called "Huckleberry" (the film’s divided into titled segments), features Aviva sleeping in a little boat floating downriver. While the title would seem to refer to Huckleberry Fin, the scene seemed to me more like a reference to Night of the Hunter, which featured little children on the run sleeping in a similar boat on a similar river. There's even a shot of the floating boat with a lamb in the foreground on the shore, mirroring the various animal-in-the-foreground-kids'-boat-in-background shots in Night of the Hunter.

The kids in Night of the Hunter ended their boat journey by reaching a house where a variety of orphaned children are cared for by the movie's heroine, a religious woman played by Lillian Gish. Aviva ends her boat journey at a house where a number of adopted children with disabilities are cared for by a religious woman named Mamma Sunshine. But the zealous Mamma Sunshine bears more resemblance to the blindly faithful Shelley Winters character. Her husband and his cohorts have a number of things in common with Robert Mitchum's Harry Powell.

Anyway, Palindromes was an interesting movie.
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