DIRECTED BY: Todd Solondz
PLOT: A teenager falls in with a group of anti-abortionists in her quest to become pregnant.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: As if the plot isn’t off-beat enough, Palindromes‘s teenage porotagonist is played by a variety of actors of different ages, sizes, races, and even genders.
COMMENTS: The standout feature of Palindromes is the unorthodox casting of a series of different actresses (and one actor) in the role of Aviva Victor. The variety of thespians allows Solondz to express the evolution of Aviva’s self-image, physically reflecting changes in her emotional state during the movie. When we first meet Aviva, she is played by a young African-American girl who wears her emotions on her sleeves and in her facial expressions. She is the only child to middle class parents (Barkin and Masur) living in an anonymous suburb in the Northeast United States. Horrified at the probable suicide of her cousin Dawn and alienated by the material nature of her mother’s love, Aviva becomes obsessed with the idea of having lots of babies to ensure she has someone to love her. Then, as a Caucasian brunette in her early teens, she has an ill-advised encounter with the son of a family friend, and gets pregnant. As a reedy, red-haired, slightly older girl, she strenuously resists but eventually accedes to getting an abortion. As a more confident and more attractive brunette, she runs away with the help of a truck driver, with whom she has sex in the hopes of once again getting pregnant. Abandoned by the truck driver, she wanders through wilderness in the shape of a teenage boy and then is discovered—now as a large, older African–American woman—by the driven and very Christian Mama Sunshine, who runs an orphanage for children with medical infirmities. Here Aviva is least like herself: in a completely alien environment, she has to lie about her name and her past to fit in, and her self-doubt and anxiety are apparent in her magnified size, awkward movement, and change in race. The plot unfolds from there involving more pedophilia, a quest to assassinate the doctor who aborted her fetus, and a shootout in room 11 of a seedy motel, with Aviva switching from shape to shape, becoming more assertive and mature. At the point where she feels most grown-up, she returns to her family as a world-weary, bedraggled 20-something waif (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She holds her own in an existential debate with her older cousin, Mark, and easily wins arguments with her parents. But, as the title of the movie suggests, things come around: Aviva meets up with the boy who got her pregnant to begin with, reverts mentally through the chain of actors who have portrayed her, until she is once again the vulnerable, out-of-place, emotionally needy little black girl. As seductive as the message is that everything eventually returns to its beginning state, palindrome-like, some things in the film are irreversible: death, certain operations, and murder among them. In the end, it’s these things that will eventually shape the person Aviva will eventually become, but she’s not yet become them yet.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“What makes this strange story even stranger is Aviva is played by eight different performers… Solondz constructs a deadpan sheltering bubble around his film, thereby defusing most of the issues he raises. It’s all one Warholian shrug. Still, ‘Palindromes’ is unlike anything you’ve seen at the movies.”–Bob Longino, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (contemporaneous)