The Ultimate Catch 22

WEINER-DOG (15) USA 2016 88mins, directed by Todd Solondz, with Tracey Letts, Greta Gehrig, Danny deVito.

There's the Hollywood dream factory. Then there's Todd Solondz. And maybe you don't make as much money telling the truth as you do peddling dreams, but someone, somehow has to make the idea of telling stories with pictures relevant and important.

In the ancient past, the 1960s, the Situationists (some youthful French philosophers who liked a drink) thought that people would stop actually experiencing the world directly, but would live through images; that images, pictures would take over from authenticity; that we would all live and interact via a vicarious layer, separate from each other.

And here we are now. In a terrible mess of comic book films and Instagram. What really happens to, oh let's say a cute little dog, which finds itself in this world of strangely disconnected humans, who has to travel through space and time, at the mercy of a series of less than ideal owners, being the avatar for a bunch of very odd ideas and fumbling attempts at reaching out, and finally ending up in a film, an art film at that. What could be more humiliating?

The ultimate catch 22 of film is: whatever you put in the film, it's going to be trapped in the frame. The frame, that unyielding prison, squarish, or a long rectangle, or in-between like television, the frame is inescapable. It's a cage, a trap, a disease, fixed, without mercy, inhuman.

You want to make films, write scripts? The frame. You want to be an artist? The frame. You want to put some photos on Facebook? The frame. It's everywhere. It's not the image that's trapped us, it's the self-created cage of the picture, the photo, the edge that cannot be denied.

This is the first film I've seen (yes, I'm sure there are others) that makes the point so clearly, so unflinchingly, that film is a prison. How can you escape?

I guess the answer Todd Solondz offers is that you reach out. Whatever indignities you suffer (and the sausage-dog suffers a few) don't stop trying to touch something authentic, some kind of genuine, unfiltered experience, something you can actually feel. Be like a sausage-dog, always enthusiastic.

Weiner-dog is a very clever, very sneaky film, honest but heartfelt and though the people in it do some terrible things to the sausage dog and to each other, Solondz is infinitely forgiving, loving even.

I'm sure no sausage dogs were harmed in the making of this film, but I can't with all certainty say the same about anyone who sees it. I promise you, you won't be able to stop thinking about it.

Paul Corcoran