I saw Synecdoche, New York earlier today, and, frankly, I'm not quite sure what to make of it.
This is the way it usually works: the artist has a vision; he/she creates from that vision, presents their creation to the world, and the world consumes, and digests it all, hoping to have gained something from the experience.
I would love to sit down with Charlie Kaufman and ask him the question that I'm sure was on the minds of many after watching his latest obfuscatory piece of work: "what the heck was that all about Charlie?"
The smart answer he could give would be, "well, Tambay, what do you think it was about?"
And then I'd probably get frustrated with him and smash him in his goddamn face like William Buckley Jr would :o)
But in all seriousness - this was a tough pill to swallow. I could give you a broad idea of what it's about; however, don't ask me about specific moments, because there were a few that left me perplexed; and even after thinking about them some more, I'm still not so sure what they all meant.
Charlie Kaufman must not be the happiest fellow around. All one has to do is take a look at his entire oeuvre; it's safe to infer that he's quite the dour one. Or, maybe he's exactly the opposite, and his work is all pure fantasy, and not at all reflective of who the man is.
I should make it clear that I actually love most of his films - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my all-time favorites. It's one of those films that, as a filmmaker, I wish I had created. So, I'm in no way putting the man down in this post.
I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that he is someone who must constantly live in his head, as just about every film he has written, involves the mind, and how it negotiates reality and fantasy.
Synecdoche, New York is no different. However, this has to be one of his least interesting films - maybe the worst of them all. Although, Charlie Kaufman's worst is far superior to the best of many others, who shall remain nameless... for now. One has to applaud his gusto! The man takes risks, and makes no apologies for them, and Synecdoche, New York is probably his least accessible film, and biggest risk to date - partly because he not only wrote the screenplay, but he also directed the film - his first attempt in the director's chair.
Broadly speaking, it's a film about death, and the fear of it. Or, you could also say that it's about life and living, and one person's desire to do something memorable and affecting before his clock stops ticking (hey, that rhymes)!
It's no accident that the film centers on a theatre director (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), and his attempts to stage a grand production of the mundane. The Shakespearean phrase, all the world's a stage, immediately comes to mind; Hoffman's character is essentially directing his life - as if he's not fully participating in it, but rather watching it unfold from the outside, as it takes on a life of its own.
It left me feeling depressed! I was already emotionally occupied before going into the theatre to see the film, and I felt even worse after I'd seen it.
But, maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it served its purpose.
The film touches on subjects we don't like to discuss (until we are faced with one of them, whether directly or indirectly), even though they are all very real, and should be fully acknowledged and reckoned with.
Who wants to talk about death? Or the meaning of life? Those kinds of existential conversations only reaffirm our limits as human beings, the somewhat fatalistic nature of life, and what awaits us in the end. How depressing, right?
Well, not really. These are things that I think about daily, and don't understand how anyone couldn't. But maybe that's my problem... if I wasn't so consumed, I could be a regular VIP on P Diddy's annual White Party guest list...
... Or something...
I'm sure Charlie Kaufman knows exactly what he wants us to get from the film - at least, I'd like to think so. I've never been a David Lynch fan, even though I've seen nearly all of his films. If I could slap a label on Synecdoche, I would call it "David Lynch lite." Not that Lynch has a monopoly on unorthodox narratives flushed with surreal, nightmarish and dreamlike images. But, he's likely the most recognizable name working within those boundaries.
There is a narrative, certainly. However, I stopped paying attention to it about an hour into its 2-hour running time, and instead found myself trying to make sense of each and every moment, like pieces to a puzzle, but forgetting about the entire puzzle altogether, once I felt that I had a good grasp on what the grand picture meant. So, it feels rather pointless to dissect it as I would, with any other review.
At just over 2 hours, it felt unnecessarily long, and could have packed more of an emotional punch if it were 30 minutes shorter. Spike Jonze who directed Kaufman's first feature screenplay, Being John Malkovich, was original supposed to direct Synecdoche as well, but he opted out to direct Where The Wild Things Are instead. Thus, we will never know what could have been, because I think the screenplay for Synecdoche would have been better handled in the experienced hands of Jonze, instead of Kaufman's.
It's a film you just have to experience firsthand. And once you do, I'd be interested in hearing all your thoughts!
If I had to rate it, using the star system, I would give it 3 stars out of 5 - if only for the effort.
This was probably the first "non-review" review of a film I've ever given. But, the film deserves it... if that makes any sense :o)
Go see it!