Sunday, December 14, 2014

Just watched...

..the amazingly profound "Synecdoche, New York" by the absolutely brilliant Charlie Kaufman.

I have a bit of down time usually aound Thanksgiving and Christmas and try to use the opportunity to catch up on the ever-expanding Netflix queue, and I had a copy of this incredible film sitting on the media console in the TV room for months. And thankfully, I had some time to watch it over Thanksgiving. I have been letting the film roll around and marinate in my head for a while now. When I was a film major in college I had a professor who would turn to us after screenings and ask quickly, "Yes or no?" That initial gut reaction to a piece of art is quite valuable but it was also interesting to see how that initial reaction could certainly change upon discussing and interpreting the film. But it is lovely when an initial "Yes" mellows and turns into an enthusiastic "YES." Such is the case for me with this glorious film written and directed by Charlie Kaufman (he wrote "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation," and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind").

Kaufman is clearly an auteur; even when he was writing and not directing past projects, his style was remarkably unique. He concerns himself with utterly humanistic matters which reverberate with all of our lives: issues of time, mortality, and relationships are told in an often dream-like way that recalls some of the tenets of Jungian psychology. His stories end up having the texture of a dream, and after I saw "Synecdoche, New York," I felt like I was haunted by something that had churned through my subconscious.

The title of the film is a bit complicated to convey. Our story begins in Schenectady, New York, and moves to New York City and Berlin, but a synecdoche (sigh-NECK-duh-key) is a figure of speech, from a Greek word which means "simultaneous understanding." As a figure of speech, a synecdoche is often compared to a metaphor, and in this way, we understand that the film can be a metaphor in part or whole. But a synecdoche is even closer to a figure of speech called a metonymy in which a word is replaced by one closely related to the original. This is a very important point since much of the film involves realities within realities and people being played by actors who are in turn being played by actors. There is the sense of being removed while still participating.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is Caden Cotard, a small time theater director who, in an apparent effort to exert some kind of control over his life, or life in general--no, in order to understand life, he writes and stages a mind-bogglingly large scale theatrical piece in which he constructs a life-size replica of New York City inside an enormous warehouse which is itself in New York City (it is dream logic, don't try to understand). He writes the play of his actual life. He has an ex-wife, a daughter, a girlfriend, and a second wife. We watch him suffer many a bizarre and strange illness but, like the people in his life, they come and go like dream events in this spectacular piece of art peppered with some breathtaking moments of magic realism. At once a psychological study, an existential comment about how life rolls us in its waves (it charts the ebbs and flows of the often puzzling feeling of what it is to be alive), and a touching unrequited love story (not so much unrequited as much as simply not having the love one feels fit anywhere), this is a film that needs to be absorbed and felt, like a dream. The more time goes by, the more value I find in it. I don't want to say any more than this since you deserve to have the experience of feeling the profound narrative fresh.

Recommend? YES. This is ultimately a transcendent film.

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