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Mommy and Daddy Issues: Exploring Parental Roles within the Films of Solondz and Haynes

by Michelle Robinson

This student project will explore the treatment of parent-child relationships in the films Dottie gets Spanked and Dark Horse, directed by Todd Haynes and Todd Solondz, respectively. Both directors portray parents in rigid, traditional roles, where the father is the disciplinary figure and the mother coddles and nurtures. By examining these relationships we plan to enter a larger discourse on the appropriate role of parents. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Mommy and Daddy Issues: Exploring Parental Roles within the Films of Solondz and Haynes

by Michelle Robinson

This student project will explore the treatment of parent-child relationships in the films Dottie gets Spanked and Dark Horse, directed by Todd Haynes and Todd Solondz, respectively. Both directors portray parents in rigid, traditional roles, where the father is the disciplinary figure and the mother coddles and nurtures. By examining these relationships we plan to enter a larger discourse on the appropriate role of parents. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Acting adds to the sense of dysfunction

by Erin Schaberg

Solondz uses acting –specifically eye contact tone of voice - to convey the potentially destructive effect of coddling mother. In this scene, Abe is rude to his mother, and she fuels his childish behavior by not commanding more respect. As Abe’s mother sits on the bed, comforting him after the confrontation with his father, Abe is turned away from her. Instead of making eye contact with her, he is faced away, staring at the wall. At various points in the scene, he directs his eyes upward in her direction, but does not makes eye contact with her. Gelber’s acting (as Abe) does not construe this lack of eye contact as sheepish or non-confrontational; instead, it appears that, to Abe, his mother does not warrant his full attention. His mother, by contrast, is intently focused on Abe as she strokes his head and shoulders. She gazes lovingly at him while lodges unjustified complaints about his father. Towards the end of the scene Abe makes eye contact when he demands his Backgammon winnings. Abe only makes eye contact with his mother when asserting himself as an authority figure over her, but is unwilling to look at her when feeling vulnerable. This eye contact disparity seems to indicate the one-sidedness of their relationship. Abe’s mother has his attention only when Abe wants something from her. Furthermore, Abe belittles his mother with his tone of voice. He is quick-tempered and easily irritated by his mother’s suggestions. Abe’s mother does not appear to take offense to his demeaning behavior, and she fosters his rudeness by repeatedly agreeing with his ludicrous claims and not standing up for herself. In this scene, Solondz directs actors to depict the relationship between and overly indulgent mother and a rude son. The nurturing displayed by Abe’s mother holds Abe back developmentally and undermines the efforts of his father to discipline him. This scene fits squarely within the oeuvre of Solondz, as it investigates dysfunctional family dynamics.

Frame as Metaphor

by Jasmine Martin

In Dark Horse the mother is the main coddling figure. She adopts the normative, nurturing parenting role as is understood through the analysis of the frames Solondz uses. The entry of Phyllis into Abe’s room furthers Solondz’ portrayal of the intimate relationship between parent and child being important in the mother’s parenting role. In the previous scene, the father is near the bedroom of his son, but he does not enter into the bedroom, nor is he welcome, as Abe makes clear in the beginning of this clip. The mother on the other hand enters delicately into her son’s safe space where he is given the freedom to express himself, as shown by the childlike images and paraphernalia around the bedroom. When she enters the room, Solondz’s decision to place her and Abe in the same frame and position her above him, sets up a hierarchical power dynamic in the relationship. However, as soon as Phyllis enters the scene, she crouches aiming to get on a closer level with her son. Even so, her body within the frame lies above her son. This positioning does not indicate the son’s subjugation to her, but rather, her commitment to care for him in a manner overbearing and overindulging. In addition to this, their being in the same frame allows for continuity editing, reinforcing the mother’s continuous support and connection with Abe. Solondz’ portrayal of the mother’s over-nurturing and sympathy for Abe reinforces Abe’s arrested development. In his other films, Solondz constantly portrays the Western role of the maternal figure as a figure confined to the realms of matters of the home and family. In Dark Horse, the mother’s only role is in the comfort and reinforcement of her son’s emotions. It is only after the son has presumably died at the film’s conclusion that the mother is seen outside of the home and her duties as the maternal figure are lifted.

Dark Horse: Abe's Mother

In this scene from Solondz's Dark Horse, Abe's mother (Mia Farrow) coddles her son Abe (Jordan Gelber) after a confrontation with his father.

from Dark Horse (2011)
Creator: Todd Solondz
Distributor: Double Hope Films
Posted by Michelle Robinson
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