It is heart-breaking to think about all of the lonely and isolated people in our communities. Many of them are depressed, lacking in self-esteem, and filled with fear. What scares them the most is their seeming inability to keep an intimate relationship going. And they are hurt by the continuing pressure of self or family to get married and have children.
Writer and director Todd Solondz has created a distinctive set of films about losers who face steep challenges to keep their souls alive. In Welcome to the Dollhouse, he focused on an awkward eleven year old fighting to survive the humiliations and tribulations of adolescence. Palindromes revolved around a teenager trying to be a nurturing presence in a world of abortions, suburban anomie, sexual predators, and wayward Christians willing to kill in the name of the unborn. In Happiness, he probed the eerie world of child molesters, and in Life During War, a quasi sequel, he centered the story around three sisters and their quest for happiness amidst moments of hurting, hating, and healing.
Abe (Jordan Gelber), the 35-year-old protagonist in Dark Horse, suffers from the toxins that loneliness and isolation can serve up. He's been in therapy for anger management and to deal with his habit of seeing himself as a victim. He refuses to take medication for his problems. Although at times he is able to be cheerful and optimistic, most of the time he espouses a nihilistic view of human beings: "You should just face the truth," he tells his mother, "we're all terrible people."
Abe is overweight, unhappy, and very lonely. He lives at home with his mother (Mia Farrow) who coddles him and his father (Christopher Walken) who thinks he is a loser. Abe's room mirrors his extended childhood with movie posters and collections of action figures. At the industrial real estate firm where he works for his dad, Abe misses deadlines and disdains his father's endless criticism of him.
At a Jewish wedding, everyone is dancing except Abe, who says to Miranda (Selma Blair), the quiet woman seated next to him, "Dancing isn't my thing." Although she feels very uncomfortable giving him her telephone number, she does anyway. Abe's emotions roar through him and pop up at the oddest moments. A trip to a Toys 'R' Us store to return a toy that is scratched turns into a shouting match with a meek clerk. A phone call to his older brother, Richard (Justin Bartha), a successful doctor, makes his blood boil. He feels that Richard was always his parents' favorite son and all that was left for Abe was the role of "dark horse." But at this stage of his life, he feels that he may not even be a contender.
Abe is swept away with romantic feelings for Miranda and after one brief encounter asks her to marry him. Coming across as someone who is over-medicated, she responds: "You're not being ironic? Performance art or something?" Miranda confesses that she has a major health issue and then introduces Abe to her ex-boyfriend Mahmoud (Aasif Mandvi) who says all the wrong things. Besieged by disappointment and troubles on many different fronts, Abe finds his only solid supporter (at least for a while) is Marie (Donna Murphy), a secretary at the office who does most of his work for him. In his imagination, she is an ally while he struggles to make something out of his disastrous life.