Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Part Representing The Whole

I finally saw Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York last night, and I have a feeling it will be rattling around in my brain even more so than Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE did for me last year. In Roger Ebert's very spot-on review of the film, he points out, rather astutely: "Think about it a little and, my god, it's about you. Whoever you are." (Emphasis his.)

The "story," if you can call it that, concerns a hypochondriac theatre director (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) who suffers from several ailments (real or imagined, the film doesn't let you know) and whose marriage is deteriorating at a rapid rate. When his wife and daughter decide to move to Germany without him, he receives a MacArthur Genius Grant, with which he plans to make a play about Life. Not just aspects of life, but about Life. And, of course, it takes him his whole life to create.

That description I just gave doesn't even remotely do the film justice. I've ruined and explained nothing. Like with many of Kaufman's films, it's about a person who retreats further and further into his own mind.

Critics seem to be split on this film, which isn't surprising. It's not a fun film (although there are aspects to it that are fun and funny). And it's not an easy film (I'd be lying if I told you I was confident in telling you what it's about). It's also a film that deals with mortality in a very frank and stark way, a not very popular film subject (even films that do deal with growing old are done with a sentimentality that is not present here). But I do think it's a fascinating and important film, and Ebert's absolutely right: it's about you, whoever you are.

I went to see Synecdoche, New York with Matt Johnston and both of us were split on how we took it: I found the movie ultimately very bleak, suggesting that we never really live our lives or live in the moment until it's time to die (i.e., until it's too late). Matt found it very optimistic, as he thought it was telling the audience that it's just not until we die that we realize we've been living our lives the way we should (i.e., you can't not live in the moment). I could be horrifically misconstruing what you said, Matt, so if you want to clarify, by all means, do so in the comments section.

I really don't know how Kaufman can top himself after this. It feels as though Kaufman has taken the subjects and themes he's been circling around and hinting at with his previous works (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, among others) and has cranked them up in full force. I definitely need to see it again.

Because it's about me.

Living in a house on fire,

James "Smoke Inhalation" Comtois

Ps. Apparently the idea for Synecdoche, New York came about from Sony asking Kaufman and Spike Jones (who was originally slated to direct the picture) to do a horror film. Although this isn't a horror film in any conventional sense, it certainly taps into several innate, primal fears.

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