I finally made it out to see Synecdoche, New York last night.
Let's be clear. I love Charlie Kaufman. Back in '97 or '98, a friend in Minneapolis handed me a script. It was stamped with some studio's logo in read ink. Looked all official and everything. My friend said, "You have to read this. Messed up." I did read it. It was messed up. It was also amazing. Beautiful and distorted and twisted and weird. With in 5 pages I remember thinking, "This is unshootable. Or at least unsellable. I love it."
It was Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. This was at least a year before Being John Malkovich came out.
Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind is still one of my favorite movies.
Synecdoche, New York is now up there too. It is far from perfect but that doesn't matter. It is ambitious in a way films hardly ever are. The last film this ambitious that I've seen was The Fountain. I really liked The Fountain but its ideas where SO large that the whole thing turned into a tone poem. The Fountain was about image and Ideas with a Capital I.
Synecdoche manages to stay grounded. Because it is telling a simple story (the 2nd half of a life). But it explores the very fact that you can't explore just one life because every life is connected to other lives... which are connected to other lives. But it doesn't get lost that concept. It finds a simple analogy for that point (or points – One, that all of us are connected and affect others and, two, that you can't tell the truth of any life because of point one) and just plays it simply. Or as simply as works in Kaufman's mind.
In his previous scripts his weird ideas (a tunnel into someones body/soul, a machine that erases memories, a man writing a script that becomes the script that is being shot) have always been analogies that become the larger hook of the stories. The characters respond to the fact that the ideas are weird and surreal (at least at first). Synecdoche is different. Oh, it is surreal (sometimes just surreal for surreal's sake which would be my one criticism), but it is rarely called out by the characters. Perhaps Kaufman, directing for the first time here, decided to remove the anchors for the viewers. Pure (or almost pure) analogy in form without feeling the need to explain it away.
Time and space and identity is fluid here but it always is in film. One reason I love it so much is that so few films use the medium to portray that which cannot normally be seen in life. And I don't mean space ships or whatever. I like films that do something new. A Scanner Darkly, Sin City, 300... all flawed but at least they tried to do something new, and I appreciate that.
I want to discuss the themes but I also don't want to tweak it for anyone. If you want to see it, you should decide what it means for yourself. It's one of those movies I can't recommend to people because it is TOO much MY aesthetic. "If you are exactly me, then you'll love it. I have no idea how anyone else would feel about it."
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