Sunday, November 28

Movies You Should Totally See: Synecdoche, New York

I was browsing DVDs with my mother one day when I stumbled upon this movie. I enthusiastically urged her to buy it, and she asked me what it was about. I thought for a while, and then said: "everything". She didn't buy it. Everything was too much for her.

I can see why she did this. Synecdoche, New York is not a movie for people who just want to unwind after a long day. In fact, of all the movies I have ever advocated on this blog, this might be the one that the fewest people will appreciate. Even the critics were polarized about the movie: Roger Ebert called it the best movie of the decade, while others called it pretentious, too complex and generally stuck up it's own ass.  And I have to admit, you have to swallow quite a bit of Charlie Kaufman's crazy imagination to make any sense of the movie. But if you're willing to give yourself over to the movie you will find it's incomparably deep and moving. Or at least unlike anything you've ever seen before.

Synecdoche is first and foremost about life. The story is true to it's source: huge, complicated and sometimes downright bizarre. We follow the protagonist, Caden Cotard, from his midlife crisis to his death. The first part of the movie shows him being just another unhappy guy with a broken marriage. His job as a theatre director grants him some satisfaction, as do his awkward flirts with the receptionist Hazel, but even in those areas he mostly ends up frustrated. It's then that he gets the chance of a lifetime: a grant of 500.000 dollars to make a play. His ultimate work of art. He sets out to recreate his entire life in a gigantic empty warehouse, and hires actors to play himself and everyone around him. When the original people and the actors who play their love interests start falling in love the movie gets so devilishly complex that I won't even attempt to explain it. 

Synecdoche is not a movie in which the symbolism is subtly interwoven with the movie. The symbolism is the movie. Everything about the characters, from their names to their tiniest actions, is relevant and meaningful in some way. But I appreciate Charlie Kaufman (the director) for doing this. He takes the audience seriously, and throes them into the deep to show it. There is so much to say and to discuss that no time is wasted on stuff we can figure out by ourselves. It doesn't make for easy viewing, but it helps make the movie as labyrinthine and massive (in the best way possible) as it is.

This is not a happy movie. In fact, it's a rather sad movie. It shows old people who got busy dying (to quote a phrase) a long time ago, and are now desperately trying to leave some mark behind. It also a movie about how we are all trying to set up our lives like an enormous play, with ourselves as protagonists, just so we can make any sense of the crazy world we live in. This movie is a slap of reality and a dreamy exploration of life at the same time. Both a movie about creation and destruction. Both a flawless masterpiece and a self-absorbed pretentious pile of shit. Maybe I was wrong about saying that this movie was about everything. In a very strange way, this movie is everything: beautiful, worthless, strange, haunting, saddening, and ultimately pointless. Like all great art. And like all great pieces of art, this is not something you will ever completely figure out or agree about. Which is exactly what makes it worthwhile.


Ladies and gentleman: The Album Leaf!

1 comment:

  1. One of the best articles you've written yet. I doubt anyone who hasn't seen the film can make any sense out of it, but it's quite hard to fully understand the film itself and you've described an completely indescribable film spot on.
    I'm still not certain whether I like Synecdoche or not, but it certainly is one of the most unique and ambitious films I've ever seen.