Oct 12, 2012

Dark Horse

I, much like the film Dark Horse's "primary" character of study, Abe, have been left with this deep burning hole within my core. The reason being is that Dark Horse is a film of tremendous talent from both sides of the camera but the actual events that transpire on film are what left me polarized and puzzled; I'm unable to manifest a concrete decision on how dearly I hold this film. For Abe, this sentiment is shared with life, for me, my thoughts on the film itself. With Dark Horse comes Todd Solondz's most challenging film to digest to date, released during the years which seem to be the fall of the American elite. With Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, Ferrara's 4:44: Last Day on Earth, and Solondz's Dark Horse, semi-independent cult cinema is shown to be artistically swaying due critical and commercial failure all but nigh. After all, these director's careers weren't built off of glowing puffery in newspapers, as the director's got their start in the marginal underground. Unlike the earlier referenced 'fallen auteur directors' for example, Dark Horse shows signs of multi-layered cinematic hemorrhaging and begs questions to be asked long after the credits roll, which is more than the other films could hope to achieve. Dark Horse is similar to a typical Solondz film but with more hallucinatory qualities, say, more in tune with Dylan Baker's dream of murder in Happiness. It is also more explicitly Judaic than his previous work and, like the others, has scripted alumni returning to form a cohesive web of quirky characters in a singular universe of dysfunction (e.g. the lead actress Selma Blair portraying Miranda) but as the closing credits note (Formerly "Vi"), meaning Storytelling's Vi - the original "Nigger Lover".

The partial setting of Dark Horse is a small business climate which is abused by Abe, a spoiled Jewish 30-something (but looks more like a 40 or even 50-something) who is on the verge of pathos and far more repellant than a colicky infant hungry for its mother's tit. Abe is absolutely infuriating to watch on the screen. There is no doubt that Todd Solondz himself views Abe as a cancer of sorts, even to his own "people." Day in and day out, Abe browses the Internet looking for hot deals on action figures, presumably to further complete his sheltered man-child escapism, as indicated by the Gremlins and the Simpsons memorabilia that decorate his juvenile room. Abe's parents are a divisive pair, the father being played by Christopher Walken and the mother being Mia Farrow, with their discussions of Abe's empty future as two separate strings of their son's case is hopeless. The father quietly exudes possible malice aforethought and somberly stares at a television in the peace of his own home. Abe's mother is the polar opposite of the father and much of the interaction with her son involves her coddling the track-suit-sporting thirty-something toddler into an ignorant stupor. This typically culminates into his instinctive inablity to see himself as the self-loathing abscess of human waste he is. Other than the sometimes incomprehensible approach Solondz took while filming Dark Horse, I found the most difficult obstacle Dark Horse had to offer was the character Abe himself. Abe is an utterly revolting creature who cruises the streets in a blindingly yellow Hummer blasting candy-sick pop music who frequents Toys"R"Us to complain about minuscule defects on Lord of the Rings action-figures. The fact that Abe is such a  amateurish collector that he would open an action figure mint-on-card to later complain about a chip in the figure states a lot about the lack in discipline of his character.

In order to understand the other main character, Miranda, Abe's love interest, one must draw a connection between her character Vi and where she left off in Storytelling, and her current social status. There is no spin I could apply to this deplorable transition that could make it any easier for you, the viewer, to grasp. Storytelling left off with Vi, an idealist liberal who had been recently "raped" by her Pulitzer Prize-winning Negro professor, believing that she had a chance of being an incredible writer, emotional dead-weight in tow. Combine that thought with her own demented and adverse sense of altruism (e.g. "Fuck me, Nigger! - also, having a relationship with a product of Cerebral Palsy) and we can paint the image ourselves, but with Dark Horse following her tragic blip of wasted youth. Dark Horse finds her as a failure who moved back into her parents who has since contracted an STD from a homosexual Indian who refers to himself as a "Westerner". Another film, another collage of multicultural horrors unmasked as Todd Solondz has already shown us how, without effort, this is his signature that leaves us wanting. Reverting discussion back to Abe, his character is first shown at a Jewish wedding which is appended with a choreographed scene of dance-floor disruption to the too-loud musical seances of an over-produced urban cacophony, namely, mundane pop group Kid Sister's song Right Hand Hi. Spanning from this to Abe's fashion comes the various examples of the many ironies exhibited within Dark Horse. Essentially, everything about Abe is a product of postmodern America; a product of a spoiled generation's waste. But then again, during the rise of network TV's latest addiction - the grotesque white-trash Honey Boo Boo, what isn't to be expected when the ideal of standards is literally favored towards mediocrity and cultural decay? Overweight and overzealous, Abe devours the limelight as television's pop parasites have, and will continue to do.  

During the middle mark it becomes apparent that there is something quite strange about the architecture of Dark Horse. I, for one, chalked it up to a loss of steam; a stream of obtrusive offenses against the film that had mighty to do with the film's occasional and more frequent dipping into the waters of the surreal. It was only after Dark Horse ended that I had this nagging itch that I had missed something that was right in front of me for the majority of the film. At this moment in the review is where I will begin to submerge into a theory that will completely and utterly spoil the film for those who have not seen it, so tread cautiously. Dark Horse is primarily told from Abe's perspective; his woes, troubles, loneliness, and disparity. Near the end of the film, Abe's psyche becomes so hopelessly wounded that he begins having casual conversation with characters who do not exist in his relative space. Abe's appearingly involuntary arguments with characters that do not exist near his material state drop in and out, becoming more and more of a frequent activity closer to the ending. These events didn't begin suddenly but were introduced sporadically, with previous examples that were, at first, ones to shrug off. For instance, after leaving Miranda's house following a first date marriage proposal, Abe's father's secretary, Marie, sprints towards his car and, without breath, hands him a stack of spreadsheets that his father had been pestering him to complete. This and other instances of Marie's "guardian angel" apparitions are what tilt Dark Horse towards something that isn't incipiently recognizable as what could be perceived as a sub-textual film shedding its translucent disguise. This is dramatically heightened once you realize that Abe is dying/dead due to a scene earlier in which Miranda admits to being a carrier of Hepatitis B. What has been presented as a plausible theory is that Dark Horse is not illustrated from Abe's perspective but from Marie's, capturing on film her own desires and motherly instincts taking full, malicious control of her psyche. This can be attested to in the multiple screen personas of Marie, as Abe views her as a loose-virtued "cougar", motherly figure, caretaker, and labor-driven sexpot. What this is equating to is also evidenced by the fact that, during one of Marie's out-of-character revelations, she reveals that she was a mother of twins who have since been deceased. Her following closely behind Abe's metaphorical coattails would explain the middle and the end, and as for the beginning, well, that could argued as the first clashing of personalities. Unless, of course, Marie was viewing his Thundercats action figure-filled browser history while he was away from the office and thus getting a more personal understanding of him, as he was often due to chronic temper tantrums. This candy colored painting of conflicting identities is further highlight with the final shot of Marie, devastated by Abe's death, staring off into emptiness while the office scurries about with business as usual. Her face frozen in silence properly demonstrates the void of Abe's infantile office drama as there is no more Abe.

Since the release of his feature-length debut, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Todd Solondz has shown insights in the understanding of the importance of music to moving images to synchronize/amplify thematic patterns as often as he injects irony and vigor into helplessness. Not leaving anything to chance though, Solondz outfits Dark Horse with its musical trump card who goes by the name of Michael Kisur. Michael Kisur's song "Who You Wanna Be"  rings out as the most eerily infectious of the bunch. It captures perfectly the, at times, Abe's infantile, self-indulgent optimism. "Who You Wanna Be" can be described as playground tunes of a Ritalin-ridden pre-teenster whose positive outlook on life is second only to the artwork of early nineties Trapper Keeper-alum Lisa Frank. Truthfully, it must be heard to be believed. In Dark Horse, Todd Solondz has surely created something original. The formula isn't the same as the prior events are left with much to be desired, thus explaining my aforementioned alienation. Taking Dark Horse entirely at face-value is how I had initially interpreted it and I was left wanting more. Notwithstanding, after tinkering with the idea that I have fleshed out in the previous paragraph, Dark Horse becomes an entirely different beast. Somehow Abe's inconsistencies and de facto flaws become less enraging as a different character's perspective is realized. With this perception of Dark Horse comes a new form of insights and without official address from Solondz, leaves Dark Horse as a superlative conversation piece.



Drew Grimm Van Ess said...

Great review. I've been thinking of giving this one a watch. Selma Blair is so hot, so that's an incentive.

Great blog you got here.

Swing by my page

Phantom of Pulp said...

I can only concur. Solandz went off for a while, but I've liked this and LIFE DURING WARTIME recently.

His outlook is pure and unadulterated.