There is an unseen, yet constantly mentioned, plague of the medfly that haunts 'Short Cuts', as if the Los Angeles of this film were a bright red slab of rotting meat and the insects had finally settled in for the feast. The shattered heart of the film's theatrical poster is the playing field and the shards are its stories - upsetting, sometimes horrifying little cameos of doubt and everyday tragedy amongst a vast cross-section of couples and families. Everything occurs in conjunction and cascade: The car brushing the little boy who spends the rest of the film in a coma while his parents hang in limbo and reduced to a total wreck, the boy's grandfather who shows up at the hospital to selfishly lament his life's mistakes to his son, the body of the dead girl floating in the water to interrupt the fishing trip, the helicopters spraying poison on the city, the family dog kidnapped and left behind, real or imagined infidelities of past and present constantly bubbling up to the surface or on the horizon, the phone sex operator working from home as she changes her baby's diaper, the pool cleaner husband who watches with muted disgust, the two couples dressed as clowns in the dawn unwilling to end a drunken party because they can't bear to be alone, smarmy men and shrewish women, the man decimating his ex-wife's furniture with a chainsaw, the hopeless alcoholic chanteuse vigorously ignoring her suicidal cellist daughter, the birthday cake that was never picked up and the abusive phone calls from the baker who made it, the couple who house-sit a neighbor's apartment and entertain there and make love in their bed, the sleazy cop who lives for his infidelities and only sometimes for his family - all of it circling around in a heady symphony of modern disconnection. The world on display here, in a film made by a 68 year old man, has finally reached a point where everything is so small and so petty, the population so huge, so scattered, that birthday cakes can cause sociopathic behavior and dead bodies are mere inconveniences. People yearn for different lives or identities and the film almost grants that wish, blurring everything together, but so clearly as to expertly point out all the distinctions. Men are seen as impatient and brutish, the women deceitful or alarmingly wild-tempered. Children are largely ignored or yelled at (except for the boy in the coma, who suddenly seems so precious and delicate). Life is a very busy, stressful affair in this film. And this is one of the rare American films that really does try to dissect what working class people's lives are like, and how certain domestic dramas play out in homes of different economic means. Madeleine Stowe hurriedly makes some slapped-together peanut butter sandwiches for the kids while breathlessly telling her sister on the phone that the dog ran away and that the kids are in a panic. Her sister, Julianne Moore, a painter and married to a surgeon, sits contentedly in her home, alone, with a jar of peanut butter in front of her which she dips a spoon into to enjoy all by herself. The smallest detail, the simplest comparison of the chasm that separates these women is made, and done so economically in Altman's style. The distinction rings hollow however, since both women's marriages are falling apart. The peanut butter is just a visual game, one of many in this heavily layered film. Visual, aural and thematic matches crop up everywhere in the film: women floating in water, fish in a brook echoed in a fish tank and a fish bowl, men laughing at a diner and a cut to a painting of smiling and laughing faces, a tight close up of a glass of milk and a cut to a television set tipping a glass of milk over in slow motion ("accidents happen every day") characters talking dirty on the phone, people saying things to someone else and there being zero connection.Everyone seems to be walking through the film either so exhausted by normal life or beaten down by their inner lives that they barely see what's in front of them. Perhaps the insectile motif expands to the characters themselves; nearly every being on view is mercilessly, almost viciously after their own agenda, unaware or uninterested in any possible way of how it is affecting the much larger picture we are so thoroughly given an omniscient, relentless view of. And if the notion of cause and effect ever does flicker in these people's minds, it's quickly dismissed with arguments, sex, drugs or (most ubiquitously important) alcohol. Robert Altman's 'Short Cuts' is a film I have trouble discussing objectively, I suppose. It was to me, ever since I first witnessed it, a work of absolute genius and courageous humanity, a great plea for deeper understanding and empathy. Its central themes - of life sometimes being all in your control, sometimes not at all, and the dangerous element of self-absorption that has seemingly taken over the American mindset - play out in scenes whose emotional palette shifts from despair to hilarity to madness to ultimately a recognition of overall human needs as a sort of free floating phenomenon, a thing we can't attain or ease our way through sometimes. Life sometimes only gives us one option. And then there is the requisite Altman nerve-breaker moment, when one can only collapse and laugh at the wild, wooly mess at hand, at the unified cacophony that life is. One does have to giggle and give in once the weight of the pain gets too heavy. In this film life just tumbles on, breaking down walls here, putting up walls there.