By **Patrick Burns**
Todd Solondz’s deadpan satire in Life During Wartime forces us to laugh, then shames us for doing so. A sort of sequel to 1998’s ironically titled Happiness, the film features the same trio of Jewish sisters from New Jersey who have moved to Florida yet haven’t escaped existential despair. Pedophilia, suicide, race, and Israel weave in and out of the narrative, all while a boy prepares for his bar mitzvah and contemplates the process of becoming a man.
In the opening scene, an interracial couple sits at a restaurant, crying. While the rehabilitated boyfriend apologizes for unforgivable wrongs from his recent past, the waitress recognizes him and spits in his face. It’s just the first of many tests of the audience’s tolerance. The discomfort is heightened by ultra-tight camera shots that fill the screen with angst-ridden faces. Saturated, Florida-in-the-summer color timing amplifies the claustrophobic depression.
Originally entitled Forgiveness, the film’s undercurrent is the concept of forgiving and forgetting—whether it’s for a pedophile father, or, more broadly, the terrorists whose acts nearly ten years ago started our current “war.” It’s the ever-present anxiety from our war-obsessed decade that Life During Wartime reminds us of—we’re inundated by it, yet not completely aware of it. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Todd Solondz’s view of suburban American hell is its absolute plausibility.
Patrick Burns is an editorial intern at Guernica.