A Difficult Endeavor

Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1999)

-In my grade school class, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I said “happy”.

They told me I didn’t understand the assignment.

I told them they didn’t understand life. –

This small evocative parable by John Lennon spells out the one metaphysical concept that most human beings wish to attain as an eternal feeling: Happiness. That’s what everyone wants and it’s when they get it that they feel life is good. Todd Solondz’s hard-to-swallow dark comedy Happiness is therefore, appropriately, not about the state of happiness, but rather, about the pursuit of it. This is where the ‘hard-to-swallow’ part comes in; many people think of happiness or its final attributes as being the ultimate bliss, a highlight reel of sunshine and flowers. What they miss is the days, months and years of pain, struggle, humiliation and defeat that come before it. This pain is what Happiness is all about. The fact that nothing is certain, but you keep going on because after all, what do you have to lose? The most remarkable facet of Solondz film is that compensates for age so perfectly, and builds a contrast that is hard to shake, because happiness is different for people in different stages of their life. For an elderly couple, it’s the hope that they may pass away gracefully. For a pedophile with a wife and kids, it’s the final push away from his own deplorable wants and needs. For a 30 year old single woman, it may be to find a useful, charitable purpose in life even if she can’t find a husband. For a 13 year old boy, it’s to masturbate for the first time.

The cringingly awkward and shockingly raw moments that these characters go through are effective because they represent one of human beings worst fears; that to attain a goal we will have to risk being embarrassed or rejected. The experience of watching Happiness itself is difficult because it has no filter for the truths that it spouts at you. There is no holding back that the narrative entails in when it lets you know off the bat that nothing in life is really ‘easy’, at least, nothing worth fighting for. This is the essence of the film and the faults of the characters, no matter how deplorable or sickening are there to make us realize that every person in the film represents a human being and all they really want is to just be happy.


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