Review of Solondz's Palindromes

Just saw the new film by Todd Solondz, Palindromes. It reminded me of why I dislike Solondz: for the fact that he trades in the mystification of social conditions, and passes it off as a subversion of bourgeois, suburban American values. We are supposed to find the inversion (the teenager, Aviva, actually wants to get pregnant, while her parents want her to abort the fetus) at the core of the film intriguing, and the multiplicity of actors playing the protagonist an innovative narrative technique, but what motivates these two narrative choices?

In the latter case, it's Solondz' insistence that social location makes no difference: we are all equally, fatally, caught up in the human condition. Because the character of Aviva is overdetermined by her desire to have a baby (indeed, to have as many babies as possible, as she declares at one moment, so that she will always have someone to love), which is a normative desire for all women at all stages of their lifetime, she can be played by any woman, of any "race", of any age. This aspect of the film's narrative structure therefore reproduces the belief that women are interchangeable (a belief certainly communicated by anti-choice rhetoric in the so-called abortion "debate") inasmuch as what ultimately defines them is their reproductive function (indeed, all the women depicted in Solondz' film are mothers - actual or potential, adoptive or biological). But social differences do make a difference to the desires (reproductive and otherwise) that women have, and, more to the point, to their ability to access resources (for example, abortion) that enable them to actualize their desires.

The inversion central to the plot of Palindromes functions to mystify the current drama around limiting (and eventually eliminating) access to abortion in the United States (whether this was Solondz' authorial intention or not). In Solondz' America, abortion is available, accessible, and bourgeois white parents advocate it - even pressure their daughters to have it, causing them to run away (into the arms of fundamentalist Christians cum disability rights advocates, pedophiliac anti-choice assassins, and creepy pubescent boys). This film comes at a political moment when women's reproductive rights (not just the choice to have an abortion, but to take emergency contraceptives, or to take any kind of birth control) come increasingly under attack in Bush's America (and, under the global gag rule, around the world). What precisely is Solondz' "even-handed" satire of the abortion "debate" satirizing?

In all his films, in his depictions of social relations, Solondz seems to want to avoid politics -- he wants to avoid using film as a medium for the articulation of a normative position on questions about the social world, prefering to subvert all political possibilities, leaving a normative vacuum and a taste of nihilism in their stead -- but in this very attempt, to evade the political, he makes a political decision. And in the case of Palindromes, "complicating" the abortion question is code for the subtle delivery of a number of covertly reactionary, politically problematic messages about women, reproductive rights, and the politics of "choice" in contemporary America.


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