Tuesday, November 4, 2008

No Man Is An Island

Synecdoche, New York Directed by Charlie Kaufman(2008)
Synecdoche, New York, is a play on words, as the story takes place is Schenectady, NY. Synecdoche, according to dictionary.com means "a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special".I went to see this with someone else, I walked out a bit stunned and a little dazed, they left bored and hostile. I loved it. They hated it. We argued the whole way home. It got heated.I know why people won't like this movie, I think, and it makes me disappointed. It is true that Kaufman could use an editor, he is a first time director after all, and is not perfect. There were allot of moments I was repulsed and wanted the movie to end, but then I found myself being sucked back in the next scene. Few movies can play this kind of continual tug of war of repulsion and attraction as this film does, even at the end I wanted/didn't want-it to end.Unlike previous Kaufman films there is no discreet "genre" mechanism to kick in and explain away the films inconsistencies, there are no sci-fi memory companies, fantastical portals to people's heads, ape-men, or meta-factious twin brothers with just the right words for the right moment. Instead your left Caden Cotard, a theater director, whose life is slowly deteriorating, until he gets a genius grant and begins the great, true, meaningful work of his life.From there Kaufman explores just how impossible it is to ever fully master a narrative."Simulacrum might be a good title" he says at one point, one of many tiny jokes (like tiny paintings) you will only get for a split second (there's a bus in the fake city, marked as headed to "Funland", for another). "Simulacrum" would be such a good title because almost nothing in this film is the genuine article, the title Synecdoche implies as much. Everyone becomes a character, idealized projection, or distortion in the world of Caden. He reads a diary of his daughter, throughout the film, who hasn't lived with him in years. What he reads is his projection of what she would be writing, which naturally would be about him. This extreme narcissism and melancholic attachments(everyone reminds me of her), becomes apparent in the film pretty quickly, the cartoons on the TV in the background, all having a Caden figure, and the re-runs on stage of the moments he's just lived.For me the most beautiful scene(spoiler in next paragraph), is when Caden and Hazel finally move in together into her house that continuously burns but is never consumed...until Caden moves in, and then Hazel dies of smoke inhalation. I don't know if there's been a better metaphor for fantasy, in cinema, I've ever come across. The house is only possible so long as Caden doesn't live inside it.That's why we never see Adele, after she leaves Caden, she appears only as notes, a voice on a tape recorder, her tiny paintings (which you can only see with a magnifying glass; that is to say if you pay Close attention). Though a quick peruse of IMDB will show how almost every viewer has a different theory for that burning house, even so it's the best cinematic Rorschach since the glowing suitcase in Pulp Fiction (before it was spoiled with that soul business). You could go so far as to see each female character represents a bit of Caden's view of women, and his need to be "redeemed" by them; his daughter, his psychologist, his three love interests and eventually the woman comes to replace him as the new Caden. With the exception of his shrink and the New Caden, all reject him at some point (not without good cause). This movie may have more in common with Fellini's "City Of Women" than "8 1/2".The scenes within the fake city; all revolve around an attempt to tell an honest story, one which includes everyone, every possible story that could occur, including the story of the creation of the fake city; the story of Caden, as he hires actors to play himself and the important players in his life, he then has to hire actors to play the actors who become themselves a part of the story, and on into infinity, until from this germ, you've built an entire world around yourself, or at least the projection of a world.There are something like 200 scenes in this movie according to Kaufman, when a film of its length normally has half that. This more than anything makes the film seem longer than it really is. A tremendous amount of ground is covered very quickly. To say this is a movie just about a man trying to make a play, is like saying Inland Empire" like it's movie poster said was just about "a woman in trouble", or "8 1/2" is just about the movie making industry.That's not even to start with the other theories that have already started flying around for the ultimate explanation of the movie, which I have heard range from; Caden is God and the theater the imperfect, incomplete world that grows beyond his control, Caden is a suicide in some surreal afterlife of half-complete (like the buildings) thoughts, "Why did you kill yourself", "What?","Why would you kill yourself?"..."Harold Pinter is dead, oh no he just won the Nobel prize", Caden is hazing a seizure induced hallucination (he shakes on a bed uncomfortably at one point), but like I said there are no formal "genre" mechanisms to let you get comfortable in your knowledge of what to expect next.It's an exhausting movie, very complex and emotionally draining experience, but it is very rewarding (not entertaining). Still, I would have seen again the next day, if I could have. But like I said, I didn't see this alone, and this movie won't be for everyone, but that's a good thing. Movies should not be for everyone. To wax nerd a moment, and quote Samuel R. Delany, "The General Public is a statistical fiction created by a few exceptional men to make the loneliness of being exceptional a little easier to bear.", that goes as much for audience of an imagined "everyone", as it does for Caden's ambitions.My conversation with someone who didn't like it, told me this movie was too long, too confusing, and too depressing. Where I thought it was a bit long, but excellently paced, challenging, funny, and ultimately moving. So to each his own, but if you like movies as more than just entertainment (whatever that could be), this is probably the first movie this year that really needs to be seen for yourself.

1 comment:

Matthew Tripp said...
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