Dark af. This movie exists in a world where nothing good happens.
Best time to watch:
When you feel like cranking your bad mood to an 11 by emerging yourself in something bleaker than the bleakest thing you can imagine (the impending Trump presidency, a world without cats, etc.) - or - When you're in a mood so good that nothing can bring you down, not even a universe where violence reigns supreme and nothing really matters because we'll all be dead soon, anyway
Why you should watch:
This is the type of film that you'll be thinking about for a long time. It's slow, morose, and weird...the type of film that often defies description. You could read every article about it and still have no idea what to expect.
Where to watch:
Fandor. It's $10/month and they have a ton of hard-to-find movies - highly recommended. They also offer a 14-day free trial.
Dissolution is very loosely based on Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment." Jeannette Catsoulis, writing for the NYT, says, "["Dissolution"] explores a soul stained by blood and smothered by loneliness." I agree with this description and think it's probably as specific as anyone could hope to be in regard to this film.
"Dissolution" follows a young Israeli Jewish man (played by Didi Fire) who lives in the predominantly Arab section of Tel Aviv. Comprised mainly of long takes and shot in high definition black and white, this is an 88-minute film that feels at least twice as long. Devoid of music and light on dialogue, "Dissolution" forces you to pay attention and actually dissect the scenes. If at times it feels like not much is happening, you're not paying close enough attention.
Every article I've read that discusses this film (and sadly, there aren't many) mentions its loose basis on "Crime and Punishment." In an interview with Henry Giardina, Nina Menkes says that the idea for the film came to her while reading "Crime and Punishment" at a friend's house in Yafo. In "Dissolution," the nameless antihero that we follow is a poor Raskolnikov figure, driven to kill Malka, a pawnbroker he often deals with, (presumably) for her money. After the murder, he becomes increasingly isolated, despondent, and paranoid. For me, the similarities to "Crime and Punishment" stop there.
In "Crime and Punishment", the motivation to kill is different. Raskolnikov believes that he is capable of committing murder and dealing with the emotional and intellectual aftermath. Since it's written in third person omniscient, we're privy to many of Raskolnikov's direct thoughts. After deciding that most murderers get caught due to a "failure of will and reasoning power," he decides, "that in his own case there could not be such a morbid reaction, that his reason and will would remain unimpaired at the time of carrying out his design" (Dostoevsky 137-8). The murder that Raskolnikov commits has more to do with a personal and philosophical challenge; the murder that Menkes' nameless antihero commits seems to deal more with a deep-seated depression and dissatisfaction with his environment.
In the world of the film, violence and death are everywhere. The landlady is angry and violent because she hasn't received her money. Two people are injured and one dies in a car crash. There's a stabbing in the neighborhood. Kids throw rocks at a horse. Our antihero's mom dies. If this is the type of shit that happens on a daily basis, how can any one person possibly fight it? When our antihero kills Malka, it's not because he's testing himself like Raskolnikov; I think it's because violence has become a default reaction to anger. Even a good, moral person would have a difficult time preventing violent thoughts from becoming violent actions when day after day, violence is the status quo.
In the world of "Dissolution," our anti-hero succumbs to violence when he kills Malka. Whenever he returns to his room, he finds a scorpion on the floor. After throwing his book and lamp at it, we hear a television in the background (maybe playing the 1956 movie, although I'm uncertain):
And so, after a night of drunken revelry, the prophet Jonah flies to his bed and turns in giddy anguish and prays to his God asking for annihilation until the fit be passed...a deep stupor falls over him as over a man who bleeds to death...
Although it's inspired by the Book of Jonah, this isn't from the Bible; it's Father Mapple's sermon from Chapter 9 of "Moby-Dick." Here's the full passage from my 2002 Norton Edition:
Like one who after a night of drunken revelry hies to his bed, still reeling but with conscience pricking him, as the plungings of the Roman race horse but so much the more strike his steel tags into him as one who in the miserable plight still turns and turns in giddy anguish, praying God for annihilation until the fit be passed; and at last amid the whirl of woe he flees, a deep stupor steals over him, as over the man who bleeds to death,
for conscience is the wound, and there’s naught to staunch it: so after sore wrestlings in his berth, Jonah’s prodigy of ponderous misery drags him drowning down to sleep (Melville 51).
There's a great deal to dissect here, but it's Sunday evening and I'm not in the mood to write a senior film thesis on "Dissolution," "Moby-Dick," and Jonah (although if you want to, I think there's certainly enough material). I will say that if this film is based on anything, it's Father Mapple's sermon, as recounted to us by Ishmael. Didi Fire's character is just as much a modern day Jonah figure as he is a Raskolnikov. Here are some parallels:
- Both follow their own will and disobey God. Menkes' character doesn't seem to believe in God (when he talks to his friend in the restaurant, he states that after death, there's obviously nothing), but we see allusions to God's judgement throughout the film in the form of scorpions. Jonah disobeys God by essentially saying, "Fuck Nineveh; I don't want to go there."
- Both are seemingly guilt-ridden. Menkes' character's mental state deteriorates as the film progresses, especially after his mother dies. He says things like, "There are no rules in this world. Misfortune is not punishment, nor is good luck a reward." If he believes that statement is true, why does he feel the need to confess and repent for Malka's murder? If there are no rules, where does the guilt come from? Jonah feels so horrible that he attempts to flee God on a ship.
- Both try to repent. The guy in "Dissolution" tries to go to confession, but when priest tells him that he can ask for faith, he leaves. Whenever he's walking outside, he mutters to himself, "You can ask... you can ask." But what he asks for is the exact opposite of faith; he asks for a sign from God. Jonah prays and promises to go to Nineveh to deliver God's message.
- Jonah and Menkes' characters are both living in trying times. God needs Jonah to go to Nineveh because the people there have become rampantly wicked; He needs Jonah to prophesy for Him and help get them on the right track. Menkes' character lives in a similar place and time, where violence has taken precedence over God. The difference here is that Jonah finds his faith and carries out God's will; Menkes' character is maybe given the sign that he asks for, but we don't know how he interprets it. Asking for a sign from something you don't believe in is futile. What the fuck is the point?
Are the horses at the end of the film a sign? A person who believes might say that they are. As soon as you believe in something, signs are all over the place. A person who doesn't believe would say that the horses at the end are bullshit. There are no signs; there is no meaning. But I'm probably just projecting my own theological leanings onto the ending. Maybe that's what Nina Menkes wants us to do.