Saturday, November 08, 2008

Synecdoche, New York: Thoughts

I took in Synecdoche, New York yesterday, and I have to recommend it, even though it kind of sucks.

The film is written and (for the first time) directed by Charlie Kaufman, who is probably the best screenwriter in the world, responsible for three unremitting contemporary classics (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and, just as importantly, two weird admirable failures (Human Nature, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind). If Woody Allen had main-lined Kafka and bad TV instead of Freud and Bergman, he would be Charlie Kaufman. He has carved out his own brand of movie: self-obsessed, absurd, and capricious. But they're also brooding and sad, pathetic in the true sense of the word. This one jacks up that aspect of his work in spades.

My head would hurt too.

Despite the pedigree of its writer, Synecdoche, New Yorkhas a terrible script. Half of its devices don't work, and half of its motifs are left for dead. (Why are the therapist's shoes so tight they make her feet swell? Why is this house on fire?) Entire subplots and characters are dropped at will, and the passage of time--crucial to a story that spans about forty years--is handled clumsily. It's also one of the most indulgent movies I've ever seen. When I recommend it, I'm recommending it not as a film, but as an experience that no two people will receive in the same way. It's kind of a miracle that it exists at all, and if you like movies, you should see it.

The problem is that most people don't like movies. They'll tell you they do if you ask them, and they may even go every week. But if you really like movies, you want to be challenged, you want to be surprised, you want to be healthily confused. You wouldn't want to see the same thing over and over again. Unfortunately, and I know how elitist this sounds, most people don't like movies because they don't respect them as a living, breathing thing, and Synecdoche, New York is nothing if not that. It's beautiful in its flaws and, no matter how indulgent or protracted it eventually becomes, alive.

"It is confusing."

I'm glad I don't have to give it a certain number of stars or anything like that because it's really not even a movie that can be liked or disliked on any fair level. There's a whole lot that I completely missed or didn't understand, and there's a lot that I don't think Kaufman understands. There are parts that are not meant to be understood. Even in its layers of confusion though, the scope is breathtakingly beautiful. The movie is about life. Kaufman, a self-indulgent director, is using the character of a self-indulgent director to interpret the mysteries of life, death, aging, loss, forgiveness, sex, and the mind. In a movie full of eternal regressions and metaphors, even real life is only a device for the movie's truth.

There's a lot about Synecdoche, New York that I'm still unsure about, but I'm positive that you've never seen anything like it.

1 comment:

Laminated Fragments said...

I have been meaning to watch this movie ever since reading this, and I just got around to this over a week ago. I just wrote my own response/blog about it, and I mentioned yours. Hope it's cool.