Movie Review: Palindromes

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
A teenage girl , named AVIVA becomes pregnant, her mother wants her to have an abortion and the kid wants to keep the child. Her name is a 'palindrome', that is it can be spelled backwards and forwards and still mean the same thing. Todd Solenz would have us believe that Palindromes his latest film follows the same structure. Take that teen and multiply her by eight, make that character change shape in several variations of the same theme—four teenage girls, one boy and girl and two adults all meaning the same - but do they?  

In one scenario, Aviva is white, her mother Joyce is played by Ellen Barkin. Aviva has sex with the son of friend’s of her parents. Joyce and husband Steve (Richard Masur) push for an abortion and after the operation which due to complications involves a hysterectomy, Aviva runs away. On the road she has sex with a truck driver. In another scenario on the road, the most bizarre of them all, she is black and overweight, (Sharon Wilkins) and seeks refuge with an Evangelical Christian right to lifer household run by Mama Sunshine (played Debra Monk). They support her decision to have had the baby and the husband plans to assassinate the doctor who performed the abortion. The house is inhabited by children of various ages with physical handicaps and the father turns out later to be a child molester. In yet another scenario, a teenage Aviva is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.  

I hesitate to recommend Palindromes. Its the kind of film that is disturbing while purposely trying to disturb and provoke. I don’t believe that a film director doesn’t have an agenda when he or she makes a film but for Todd Solenz to claim ignorance of the ramifications of his theme just doesn’t hold. At least that is what he explained when the film premiered in Venice last September, accompanied by actress Ellen Barkin. Barkin in fact, true to life for her character said that if her daughter were pregnant, she would recommend an abortion.  

What seems to be missing in all of Solenz’ takes on teenage pregnancy is any dialogue with young girls about their sexuality—one free from the constraints of religion, abuse and authoritarianism. Its not possible to indulge in Solenz’ world for long because what he never comes close to exploring is a young girl’s integrity and her right to grow up in the world she lives in with choices as a sexually active human being. Aviva seems to be a young woman trapped in her biological role as procreator in Solenz’ grim Palindromes, dwarfed by child molesters or right to life or pro choice adults. Maybe that’s the point, to present teenage girls as an exploited ethnic group, with Todd Solenz as master orchestrator.  

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan, Venice Italy

More Information:
USA - 2004