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Todd Solondz's Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy

by Michelle Robinson

This student project studies the various stages of dark fantasies in director Todd Solondz's films, including Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, and "Fiction" and "Non-Fiction" in Storytelling. These stages will include the pre-fantasy, the pure fantasy, and the post-fantasy reflection. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014)

Todd Solondz's Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy

by Michelle Robinson

This student project studies the various stages of dark fantasies in director Todd Solondz's films, including Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, and "Fiction" and "Non-Fiction" in Storytelling. These stages will include the pre-fantasy, the pure fantasy, and the post-fantasy reflection. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014)

Achieving the Fantasy

by Chas Egan

Todd Solondz uses camera movements/shots, music, and lighting to emphasize the dark and twisted nature of Bill Maplewood’s fantasy and also the build up and entrance into the fantasy itself. The clip begins with an over the shoulder shot of Billy with Maplewood looking down on him. Billy is shown lying on the ground in his pajamas. The high angle shot displays Maplewood’s dominance in the situation. Multiple jump cuts between Maplewood and Billy reveal that Maplewood is staring at his sexual fantasy for an extended period of time. The extreme close ups also reveal the lustful desire on Maplewood’s face. When Billy finally eats the sandwich containing a high dosage of sedatives, a close up of Maplewood’s face captures a look similar to that of sexual climaxing. This represents the moment where Bill Maplewood has reached his fantasy. Then Solondz adds a brief clip of non-diegetic sound, which he has not utilized in the clip thus far. The sound is cued when a close up shot of Billy is shown. The music ironically adds to the dark fantasy aspect of the clip because it is very happy and hopeful music. But the viewer knows that the music is describing Maplewood’s feeling of lust and hope for Billy to eat the sandwich. The music also adds a sense of suspense to the pre-fantasy stage of the clip. Another technical aspect to the clip that adds the “dark fantasy feeling” is how Solondz uses lighting. While Billy lies on the floor, his face is masked in light from the TV screen. This represents his innocence as a young child and also highlights him as the focus of Maplewood’s gaze. On the other hand, Maplewood’s torso and face are covered in shadows throughout the scene. This displays his inner dilemma of fighting his dark fantasies (represented by the dark shadows) with his normal side. At one point the lighting is split directly down the middle of his face. Solondz is showing the audience a two-faced Bill Maplewood.

Fantasy and Sandwiches

by Bryant Clements

As the hackneyed platitude states, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Bill Maplewood embodies this parable’s message in his pursuit of happiness, as depicted in this clip in which he is attempting to coerce a young, underage boy, Johnny, into eating a sandwich filled with sedatives. Solondz crafts and positions this sequence in an interesting way within the narrative, as it paradoxically builds the dramatic tension with the audience in a manner comparable to cheering for a protagonist to accomplish their goal. However, in this instance, the despicable objective is to drug and rape an adolescent boy. Solondz makes the audience aware of information and intentions that the rest of the characters are not cognizant of, making this sequence operate on two different levels within the narrative. On the surface, Bill is leading an idyllic suburban life with a stable job and family; however, underneath this utopian façade lies a realm of repressed and depraved fantasies. This dichotomous space is where this sequence operates, as his family believes he is being thoughtful by making them snacks, when in reality this benevolent gesture is the vehicle for attaining his twisted desires. By drugging everyone in the room, Bill is able to keep the physical enactment of his fantasy internalized and private, much like it is in his head, as no one knows his yearnings or that the action is occurring. Bill’s anxiety and anticipation in attaining his desire is palpable in his anguished acting and ardent desire to provide Johnny with a snack he will eat. Bill’s obsession with Johnny begins when he notices him at a Little League baseball game, as he gazes at the young boy through a chain-link fence. It can be inferred that he has been anticipating the fruition of this fantasy from that moment onwards until he can free his desires from the imprisonment of the fence.

Happiness: The Sandwich

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In this scene from Todd Solondz's Happiness, the character Bill Maplewood attempts to drug his son's friend Billy with a tuna salad sandwich.

from Happiness (1998)
Creator: Todd Solondz
Distributor: Good Machine Releasing
Posted by Michelle Robinson
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