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Palindromes: family redefined

by Laura Katherine Dunn

The family Solondz shows in Palindromes is immediately marked as non-normative by the variety of races and abilities around the table. This can be seen as a response to the white stereotypical family that was popularized by 1950s media that has become part of our cultural consciousness. Additionally, the sheer size is unusual, and indicates a redefining of the conventional American family.


Transracial adoption aside, the scene really unsettles due to the characters’ parodic happiness which contrasts Aviva’s shrinking unease in a new environment. When the family introduce themselves one by one, they directly address the camera, putting the audience in Aviva’s place, and thus increasing empathy with her. We are introduced to them at the same time she is, and identify with her trepidation.


The dinner itself becomes important when Aviva mentions that she cannot cook. Food is used a symbol of familial togetherness in this scene (“we take turns doing everything” “Teamwork!”) and so Aviva’s dearth of knowledge speaks to her troubled upbringing (“your mother never taught you how to cook?”) It also contrasts to the abundance of support in which she now finds herself. The children’s chorused sympathy at her shyness at 1.40 is so Walton-esque as to be satiric. The scene is shot in a mixture of close-ups on people’s faces, and wider shots encompassing the whole table. This combination serves to emphasise the family as a unit, while also making their diversity clear.


The second half of the scene is Barbara telling her mother’s story. It is intercut with close-ups of other children’s solemn reactions, which again indicate the united state of the family. Their sober reactions are in contrast to their usual sunniness, and hints at the film's darker themes. In this scene at least, the Sunshine family is one of the happiest portrayed in a Solondz film: however this positivity is in itself an ironic parody.

Breakfast in Palindromes: A Parody of Perfection

by Natasha Martin

The Breakfast scene in Palindromes plays with the idea of the perfect family by parodying a fundamentalist Christian family, who present themselves as a loving sanctuary for abandoned children. The alleged basis for their family is their belief in the value of life, but it is eventually revealed that they are actually extremists who assassinate abortion doctors.

This scene features the family around the breakfast table where Henrietta (Aviva) is being introduced to the family. Mama Sunshine tells her that they all have a story to tell, a reference to their apparently troubled lives before they were “saved” by the Sunshine’s. While they are being introduced, Peter Paul tells Aviva of the illnesses and disabilities of each child. During the scene, the children are smiling and laughing, displaying an exaggerated happiness that seems almost artificial, especially given some of the deeply personal anecdotes they reveal. The camera uses a series of close shots to focus in on each of the children, allowing us to see their exaggerated facial expressions. Solondz also uses medium long shots to reinforce the artificiality of this scene by showing the entire family laughing in unison.

The scene culminates in one of the children, Barbara, telling her story, in which she was abused by her drug addicted mother who had attempted to abort her with a hanger before dying from choking on her own vomit. This girl is an almost perfect embodiment of the contrived horror stories told by anti abortion extremists.

The Sunshine family also serves as a foil to Henrietta’s own parents, who force her to have an abortion despite her obsessive desire to have a baby. Mama and Bo Sunshine are strictly opposed to abortion and have created a large family of rescued children as an extension of their anti abortion beliefs. During the breakfast table scene the Sunshine’s attempt to reinforce the idea that they are a happy, perfect family. However, this idea is undermined both by the artificiality of their happiness and by the eventual revelation that they are murderers.

By showing the dark reality of a family who attempts to represent themselves as being a loving, perfect household, Solondz once again reveals the dysfunctional underbelly of the American family.

Tension: It's What's For Dinner

by Michelle Robinson

This clip by will be used to explore representations of the family meal in Todd Solondz’s films Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, Palindromes, and Storytelling. Students will examine Solondz’s parodies of domestic and family ideals via scenes that depict his characters around the dinner table, an iconic site for representations of the family unit. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2012).

Palindromes - Breakfast at Mama Sunshine's

In this clip from director Todd Solondz's Palindromes, 13-year old runaway Aviva Victor (Sharon Wilkins here; she's played by other actors at various points in the movie) has breakfast with Sunshines, a devout Christian family who take Aviva in.

from Palindromes (2004)
Creator: Todd Solondz
Distributor: Wellspring Media
Posted by Michelle Robinson