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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)

Representative Setting

by fletcher cox

The first establishing shot in this clip reveals the shortcomings and futility of Toby Oxman’s professional career. He sits, alone, in his juvenilely decorated bedroom, reminiscing on his high school sweetheart, Pam. A disheveled tapestry covers half of his only window, while a poster is pinned to the adjacent wall. A pair shoes sit bedside. A computer and keyboard sit on his desk, with a stack of unorganized files to the right of it. He initially appears to be alone, but as the scene progresses we see that he shares his home with a shaggy, washed up looking male. The setting and decorations set up in Toby’s room correlate directly with the conversation he has on the phone with Pam. Prior to dialing the telephone, Toby sits nervous, fidgeting. This conveys the fact that he is uncomfortable in his own setting, with his current financial and living situation; that he is not yet ready to present this reality to Pam. For Toby, the phone represents a chance to convey his status to his own liking; an object that allows Toby to project his fantasies. At the same time, however, the phone also functions as a deliverer of reality. Toby admits to Pam that he stopped acting, but only so that he could attend law school, an imaginative projection of self, later he admits he dropped out. This dialogue references the stack of files on his desk, that have observably not been meddled with recently. He then acts grateful for dropping out, as it led him to become a writer, another false projection of self. Pam asks if she would know any of his work, thus bringing him back to reality, he then blames the publishing industry for his failure. This conversation references the unused computer on Toby’s desk; the computer is powered off, much like Toby’s writing career. Toby expresses his fantasy primarily through his proclamation of his status as video documentarian. He tells Pam that he is in the middle of planning a documentary on teenagers living in suburbia. He namedrops that he is seeking Derrida, a French philosopher and writer, to write the documentary. This is another example of fantasy through a pompous allusion to a distinguished French intellectual. In the first establishing shot, there are many objects that represent Toby’s work. In that frame, however, there is not a video camera or any recording equipment present. What is present however, are a pair of shoes, which reflects Toby’s reality of working in a shoe store. He tells Pam “I’m not ashamed…I have a much stronger sense of self now.” Thus furthering the fantasy of self-confidence and success he attempts to convey to Pam throughout the phone conversation.

The Narrative Analysis

by Connolly Walker

In the second half of Todd Solondz’s film, Storytelling, we are introduced to a middle-aged, Toby Oxman. Immediately, we are shown an old high school yearbook with a note from a teenage girl. The note wishes Toby luck as an actor and asks him to remember her when he is famous. But it seems that Toby has not lived up to his “potential,” and sadly peaked in high school. Toby is fully aware of his lack of success and to cope with his realization, he attempts to fantasize about a life that could have been by going back to a time when he was full of potential. He carries out this fantasy by calling the girl from the yearbook, Pam Doherty. While on the phone with Pam, Toby is frequently moving in and out of fantasy and being pulled back into reality. Even so, Toby continues the cycle of ignoring reality by developing new and exaggerated fantasies. The phone call begins as an attempt to live out a fantasy life he wants for himself, all the while impressing the girl who admired him in high school. However, he is drawn back into reality when Pam asks about his life as an actor. At this moment, Toby recognizes his failure and tries to glorify his retreat from acting because he wanted to go to law school. However, he quickly admits that he dropped out of law school to become a writer. Though briefly living in a fantasy world as a writer, he is pulled back to reality by saying he also worked at a homeless shelter and drove a cab, but he says, “I still have some dignity.” As the conversation continues, Toby tries one last dodging shot to carry out his fantasy by saying he is a documentary filmmaker working on a piece about teenage life in suburbia. It is perhaps intentional that he has chosen teenage life in suburbia as his documentary’s subject because he is once again trying to get back to the time when he was full of potential. However, he is pulled back to reality when he admits he is currently working at a shoe store. Though he tries to change the focus to Pam, this only makes Toby’s failure more potent as he realizes he has neither married, had children nor made a professional life for himself. Finally, we see Toby give up on fantasizing about the future and for a fleeting moment he fantasizes about the past when he says, “I should’ve asked her out on a date.” This comment leads Toby to believe that if he had only asked Pam out, he could have had a better life than the ones he fantasizes about.

Toby's Shortcomings

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In this clip from director Todd Solondz's Storytelling ("Non-Fiction"), the character Toby fantasizes about a life he wanted but still doesn't have.

from Storytelling (2001)
Creator: Todd Solondz
Distributor: Fine Line Features
Posted by Michelle Robinson
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