Happiness (1998) – To Search for Human Connection


Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” is a reflection within us, a portrait of why good and evil are just the same as us. It’s a portray of melancholic people, to find out what it means to be happy. Why are we sad? Why do we feel depressing? And why are we alone? Everyone is alone and everyone needs a connection. But, we look for all that without thinking about others. What we only seek isn’t happiness. It’s an ego that drives us to seek happiness that never existed. We practice morality to do things that harm others.

This movie explores what is despair and what is human. Even though this movie is very taboo, you never thought it would be like that. Watching this movie is like watching a disgusting program but you still sympathize with such a disgusting thing. Whether you sympathize with a pedophile, a serial killer, a sex predator, and so on, that’s about what makes them do it. It’s a movie about an individual story that seeks connections and understands what it means to love and be loved. It moves back and forth, like an apartment room from one apartment to another.

The story tells at least eight or nine characters. The first sequence opened with Joy (Jane Adams), who just broke up with a loser she was dating (Jon Lovitz). After that, we meet Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who has a wild fantasy about women next to his apartment. He tells the therapist (Dylan Baker) that he wants to depressively sleep with her and imagine how it feels. The therapist, Bill, is just a father with a normal family in general. However, no one knows that he is a pedophile who always masturbates with teen-idol magazines.

Trish (Cynthia Stevenson) and Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) are Joy’s sisters. Trish is a wife of Bill, the psychiatrist who never knew of her husband’s behavior. On the other hand, Helen is a poet who struggles with many men who look at her passionately. Their parents (Louise Lasser and Ben Gazzara) have been married for years. However, their relationship never went well until they tried to find another partner just to fulfill their passions. Kristina (Camryn Manheim) is a fat girl who lives on another floor of the same apartment Allen lives. Kristina has feelings for Allen even though Allen never knew that Kristina was in one of the crimes.

Although this is another hyperlink cinema, “Happiness” is a unique movie. It’s a disgusting film and very taboo one yet feels relatable to us. All these characters hide each other’s secrets in one apartment, in one house, in one neighborhood. We see how they look for connections with each other but never care about other people too. Like Bill’s for example. His obsession with children also tried to question whether he was still normal or not. Likewise with Allen who must help Kristina after what he always thought he never got.

This movie has many emotional moments where you never thought about how these characters try to live it. Like the phenomenal yet controversial scene between Billy and his son. Although like that, most of the performance where awkward yet intentionally. But, most of them were cringe as well. It’s a story about “came” where there is a lot of masturbation and cum stories. Because I never thought if a child told his father how to masturbate. It’s a taboo yet normal in certain scopes but it’s just hard to go through.

This movie is hard to experience but most of the time, you feel all of these characters went through also. This movie is very, very successful on DVD. In 1997, there were films such as “Boogie Nights” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s a hyperlink cinema that is more centered on the pornography industry. Two years after this film, Paul Thomas Anderson made “Magnolia“. It’s another hyperlink cinema based in the San Fernando Valley. “Magnolia” is one of my favorite movies as well from the director. Both “Magnolia” and “Happiness” have the same story. However, “Magnolia” is more direct to a melancholy story about the meaning of life and in a more surrealistic way. Humans and frogs are the same creatures.

On the other hand, “Happiness” is an amazing movie not because of the theme or the black comedy but because of how these unhappy characters live through. You feel sorry for them, you feel pity for them, and you think they don’t deserve it. But, is this movie just trying to change or exploit the controversial subjects themselves? No, and if you still think that this film promotes pedophilia, I think you should watch it again. By watching this movie, you think that humans need what is called connection and happiness. Whether they come from where, what their identity is, and what they do, all they just need is happiness. Some of them cannot achieve it, some of them can achieve it, and some of them still question whether this is happiness or not.

Salman Al Farisi

An Indonesian who loves to watch and read everything. A literary student who likes to write about reviews and essays on Crackdown Review. But, I just wannabe critics who love arthouse than anything.

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