18 August 2001 | evilmatt-3
An oft-misunderstood film about quiet desperation
I wasn't going to write a comment for this one, but after reading all the nasty things said about it, and considering that _Happiness_ was the basis for one of my final undergraduate philosophy papers, I feel a duty to defend it.
First of all, what you've heard is true: this movie is very graphic and almost impossible to sit through without covering your eyes at least once. However, it is worth noting that the most uncomfortable scenes are uncomfortable precisely because of an empathy that the audience establishes with the characters; it is that precisely that empathy which often pulls the audience in a direction opposite from social mores that makes us squirm. I don't know how many of the other critics here are schooled in film theory, but that kind of powerful emotional effect is typically considered a GOOD THING in films. So, really, what most people object to about this film is the content, regardless of what they want other to believe.
That said, this really is a wonderful film precisely because of the level of human understanding, empathy, and reality it encompasses. It portrays human nature from the inside out, where it is least dignified and most pathetic. What we see are a number of people desperately scrabbling around for fulfillment, because they have all to some degree achieved the fulfillment of their desires and found it hollow. Since they don't realize this fact themselves (most people don't), they look for that fulfillment they feel entitled to by using other people. It is this fundamental destructiveness of human desire (written about masterfully by Zizek) which causes the "evils" in this film.
I put "evils" in quotes because, as Solondz's film masterfully demonstrates, there is no evil to be found in this film; there is only humanity and suffering. This absence of moral judgment, though disquieting, is what allows the spectacular sense of empathy and full moral complexity of this film.
Thus, the moral of the film is that the surest way of destroying happiness is to seek it. And that, I feel, is a message that not only makes this a great film but also an artwork of tremendous social value.