Of all of Todd Solondz’s stark and strangely sympathetic characters, none has captured the nostalgic spirits of moviegoing audiences like Dawn Weiner, the awkward, tormented protagonist of “Welcome to the Dollhouse.” In 1995, nearly a decade before “Napoleon Dynamite” became a household name of spazziness, Weiner was the cinematic poster child of ’90s disaffected youth. Solondz recalled audiences’ bewildering reaction: “When people went to see ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse,’ they came up to me afterwards — it could be a construction worker, but it didn’t matter — they’d all come up to me and say the same thing: That was me! I was Dawn Weiner!”The director, who has built his post-“Dollhouse” career on characters who live on the dark edges of American society, has held true to form with “Palindromes.” The movie chronicles the story of a 13-year-old girl who embarks on a journey to have a child. “She wants to have a baby, but what does that mean? It’s just a quest for unconditional love,” Solondz said.The young girl is portrayed by a total of eight different actors and actresses with no regard to race, sex, age or body type. The movie opens at Dawn Weiner’s funeral, which Solondz said was no coincidence. “When I first conceived of this radical concept of multiple actors playing the part … one thing I was inspired by was my memories of (people’s universal reaction to the first film). ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’ was the launching pad.”Solondz said that “Dollhouse’s” universal appeal spawned “Palindromes” as an experiment on viewer identification. If a character is truly sympathetic, does it matter what performer, or indeed how many performers, are cast in the role? “Audiences will experience a certain level of disorientation — (they’ll think) wait, is she black, is she Latino, is she a red head?” he said. “My fear was that it would come across as … a show-offy but pointless trick, and alienate the audience. But my hope was that there would be a cumulative effect that would be more emotionally affecting than had there been just on actor: More magic, and less sleight of hand.”Solondz also commented on another of the film’s many thematic facets: abortion. “It’s not a dogmatic film — I’m not out to advocate a position,” he said. “Take for example Ellen Barkin’s character. She’s a good woman of progressive leanings; you give her the form, she’ll check off anti-war, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, but then reality hits. What do you do when your 13-year-old comes home and she’s pregnant — and not only pregnant, but she wants to keep the baby?” As for the film’s central metaphor — namely, its title — Solondz said the movie is a statement about the human ability to change. “In the same way that a palindrome is a word or pattern that reads the same way from the front as from the back … (it) also functions as a kind of loose metaphor for ways in which we don’t change.” And as the movie ultimately reflects, “you (might have) grown and changed over the years (but) on the other hand, you are still very much the same person you were at 10 years old. The same temperament, the same filters of human experience are at work and operation as they were then, and as they are today,” he said.“Palindromes” is now playing at the State Theater.

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