A REFLECTION: Palindromes (2004, Solondz)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Gerald Sim, The Subject of Film and Race (2014): Introduction ‘What Is Critical Race Film Studies?’ and Chapter 3 ‘Post-Structuralism and the Neo-Marxian Subject’.

In Gerald Sim’s book, he begins his introduction with a primal question that is asked of cinema: “is it racist?”. It is a question which still plagues the Hollywood industry today – in a culture which sees white supremacy dictate the decisions of Studios, white-washing and perpetuating a lack of diversity in films. It is here that there lies an urgency for representation as an important discussion point that needs to be addressed. Critical race theory interrogates these matters, seeking to look beyond stereotypes and to study forms of representation. It has arisen through two streams of reactions: moralistic outrage and criticism, and a formal understanding of the underlying patterns of race as a construct.

Sim’s argument in regards to Todd Solondz’s Palindromes stems from a poststructuralist second generation critical race film theory outlook, which views racism as materially determined and utilised for economic interests. He stresses the need to pay attention to economic and class struggles, suggesting that gender, sexuality and race only follow from a capitalist history of materialism. This is shown in Palindromes, where the juxtaposition between the Victor and Sunshine families depict the classist differences in livelihood, positioning it as a forefront in contrast to the neutrality of race and ages of Aviva. As a result, Sims frames race in economic terms, highlighting that material conditions shapes humanity as beings, which leads to the idea of race being a social construct.

As a result, Sims suggests that Solondz’s Palindromes works as a challenge to the social constructs which are inclined to materialise race, gender and other identity markers. Instead, Solondz focuses on human identity, elevating the sameness of an individual in all circumstances, looking beyond the labels of race. It steers away from the white patriarchal viewpoint, portraying its protagonist through 8 different actors of race, gender, size and age. In this way, Solondz ensures that his film diverts itself in stereotypes, aiming to remain unaffected by the differences of race and gender. By diverting from this Hollywood conventional voice, Solondz suggests that the inner character of a person transcends the materialist labels of society. The neutralisation of these identity markers aligns with Adorno’s emphasis on the necessity to comprehend a person’s inner being – whereby the the character stasis in the film stresses Aviva as an unchanged person (despite changing actresses) – all driven by the same motivations and emotions from beginning to end.

While Solondz’s film is tonally confusing through its indecision between comedy and gravitas, it is deliberately alienating – aiming to emphasise the universality of its thematic concerns through its changing actors. Solondz highlights the need to empower female sexual liberation and to not condemn it, interweaving this  message through the film. The use of different actresses steers away from any type of stereotypical representation of teenage pregnancy, suggesting its circumstances could happen to anyone. The stasis of the actors portraying one character is similarly reflected in the cyclical nature of the narrative – where the young girl who appears at the beginning of the film closes the film with the same mindset: “I want to have a baby“. Although Palindromes may seem tonally odd and resultantly, at times ridiculous, Solondz’s dedication to the portrayal of the authentic character of Aviva is admirably followed through to the very end.

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