I first saw Dark Horse at the London Film Festival, you can find my review here, and was greatly impressed with the fluid and insular storytelling, which recalled Solondz’ Welcome to the Dollhouse, and the way in which the film engaged with many themes surrounding the infantilized modern male.
Read on for Solondz’ own take on this, and much more.
The film’s theme of infantilization, particularly of the American male.
It is, as I’m sure you’re aware, very popular in TV and films such as The 40 Year Old Virgin and so forth. So you I suppose you could see this as a kind of response, as a kind of alternative to that moviegoing experience. It’s just not a very sentimental approach to the subject. One can of course, if you’re an academic, talk about the political and the sociological dimensions of this but I’m not an academic, so I won’t go there.
I think I was moved by this character who lives a kind of death in life, who finally comes to life in death. There’s the aspect of this person who clings to his youth and it’s the hopes and dreams of that youth. There’s a poignancy inherent there. This is a character, of course, who is very abrasive and very off-putting and someone you might dismiss out of hand, someone you’d never have lunch with. And yet I say that this is someone who has value, who has an inner life, a vulnerability, a pulse and a heart bleeding and beating and so forth. He is someone who you should think twice about before writing him off. I think in some sense it’s not so dissimilar from the way I’ve dealt with someone like Bill Maplewood, the paedophile in Happiness, someone else you don’t have lunch with and yet one is forced, or asked, to recognise that even if you do not like or sympathise with him, there is a humanity.
Similarities between Dark Horse and Welcome to the Dollhouse and the more singular stories in each.
When I’m writing I’m not thinking in these intellectual terms but in looking at the work afterwards I think that’s fair enough. It’s Welcome to the Toy Store. It is in some ways an insular experience in the way Dollhouse may have been, focused on one character. Characters trapped in routines, struggling to escape what they see as a dead-end. I’m just riffing here…
The idea that both films present characters that are perhaps off-putting in some ways to certain audiences and over the film their pre-conceptions may be challenged and changed.
It’s so interesting to me, the way the character may be changing, it’s more our understanding of the way the character may be changing. Even on Dollhouse I remember some critics, even those that liked the film, would describe her as this “ugly little girl” and of course they unwittingly fell into the trap of being the seventh graders themselves. It’s something that I’m used to at this point.
The dream world that Dark Horse moves into.
It was in the first draft of the script. For me it’s a way of dramatising the life of the character and getting some way closer to him. For some, people may be put off and they may just want a Judd Apatow movie but this is a movie that, for me, in the dream stuff becomes most moving.
There is a kind of unanchored effect – is it real, is it unreal – what matters is the emotional trajectory, the inner logic of the actual scenes themselves. For me, there’s the reality, the unreality and then there’s the afterlife. There’s a scene early in the movie where he talks about ow horrible humanity is and it’s a somewhat cynical or juvenile philosophy but what the movie does is it serves to ultimately undermine that philosophy. There’s this twist that I liked. Everything is filtered through his own consciousness.
The tenderness in the film and the ending and the common critical reaction to Solondz’ films that often focuses on the perceived ‘mean-ness’.
When we did the American posters we had one critic who wrote that it was ‘brilliantly cruel’ and then another critic wrote that it was ‘his most gently endearing film’. So which is it? I’ll leave it to you to tell me. It’s not something I can control. I’m aware of it but there’s always a kind of ambiguity at the heart that I like in many different ways in the way in which I play with my characters and stories. And I don’t want to have to lose that so that it is clear that this is where you laugh and this is where you don’t. I don’t want to define it and I want an audience to find their way through it, to experience it. Ultimately when people ask what sort of audience I want I just say that I want an audience with an open mind.
The absence of supplemental features on the DVD/Blu-ray releases of his films.
I’ve never done any commentaries or given extra scenes or any of that. I like that the movie is the movie. If you write a book and you cut out three hundred pages, does everyone clamour to read those three hundred pages you cut from that tome. It’s really the same thing. They want this scene and that scene but I cut so much out of every one of my movies and I don’t like to explain things.
On the last film I did a Criterion thing so I agreed to just answer some questions from people at large. I do Q&As all the time so it wasn’t too difficult but it’s very different from me going and presenting a statement. It always ends up feeling a little self-important, a little embarrassing. On Happiness they had a DVD and they called it the signature edition. They wanted me to give them my autograph for the front cover but I just couldn’t do it, it was just too embarrassing. So they ended up just forging it. It wasn’t even mine.
Dark Horse is now showing in UK cinemas.