Life During Wartime (Movie Review)

Life During Wartime
Written and Directed by Todd Solondz
98 min.

My girlfriend wasn’t raised much on movies. Her parents were very strict; for her whole life, all film was to her was the occasional musical adaptation or kids’ flick. To a life-long cinephile, hearing this on our first date was like finding out the only food she eats is Skittles. Suffice to say, I had some cooking to do.

Since then, we’ve gorged. She may not be Ebert-level plump yet, but she’s well on her way and enjoying every broken belt loop. One filmmaker she’s taken to in particular is Todd Solondz. The destructive families and hypocritical religiousness hit close to home, and coupled with his token dark humor, provide her much needed cathartic laughs. This week, we went to see his latest effort at the IFC Center.

Life During Wartime begins with a similar scene to that which opens Solondz’ Happiness– and although the actors are different, we quickly learn they are  playing two characters from the previous film. In fact, most of the characters in Wartime are carried over from Happiness, albeit with new actors in each role. Oh, how the people we once knew have changed– or have they?

‘Changed’ isn’t the right word, actually. ‘Evolved’ is better– though they have not done so into higher lifeforms, but parallel monsters– the adults still narcissistic and brutal, the children still neglected and dejected, but with a new underlying cause. Gone are the days of destructive pursuits of happiness. Now is the time for destructive forgiving and forgetting.

Some have chosen to forgive but not forget. Others, to forget but not forgive. Still others have resigned to doing neither. As none have done both, none have found solace. The war wages on.

Wartime is political and religious allegory done right. Solondz is not a scholar on either subjects, but through his acute understanding of people is able to offer profound insight on both. He’s similar to Michael Haneke in that regard, who’s latest film The White Ribbon was able to make profound statements about Nazism without ever broaching the subject. Also like Haneke, his most recent work is his best to date.

And what did my girlfriend think? Well, she hasn’t stopped thinking about it. The themes hit closer to home than ever before. Great art can help you remember you’re not alone. With Life During Wartime, Solondz has brought her that comfort.

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