Saturday, November 29, 2008

Synecdoche, New York - Brian Prisco

It’s a Charlie Kaufman movie, so you get what you’ve come to expect: a mopey artist wrapped up in a wonderfully sad love story which involves a multitude of off-beat supporting characters in a surrealist circumstance, one of whom is an effervescent female major love interest. It’s just unfortunate the sheer brilliance of Kaufman’s mind wasn’t focused by someone else’s lens.

The problem is that what we are receiving is unfiltered Kaufman, and we aren’t equipped to handle that.

Synecdoche
is Kaufman’s Ubu Roi, and it’s just too hard to handle.

Caden Cotard is the prototypical depressed artist at the center of all of Kaufman’s work. The biggest issue is he’s too much of a mope. While all of Kaufman’s previous characters had brief moments of whimsy and joy, Cotard is enwrapped in the shit that is his life, and he doesn’t have opportunity to smile or be happy. While Eeyore is my favorite character in all the Hundred Acre Woods, there’s a reason why we rarely get a story that focuses entirely on him. Too much of the somber plodding sadness makes it hard to appreciate the beauty.

The other problem is that Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden. It’s impossible to separate Hoffman from this character. He’s the same blustering depressed bastard he’s been playing forever. It’s not that he’s not good; it’s just that I’ve had my Phil. Conversely, Samantha Morton gets a chance to really sparkle as Hazel. She’s even more bubbly and lovably cynical than Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine. Hazel strikes me as the kind of woman Clementine would have grown into if she decided not to stay with Joel after the credits, and ditched the punk rock. She manages to be alluring and shy, seductive without seeming to be aggressive, adorable and smart and basically everything you would want in a girl. If you aren’t head over heels for a Kaufman love interest, there’s a casing of ice over your heart. Morton is brilliant, actually capturing everything I loved about her character in Mister Lonely without being in a terrible movie.

Kaufman really stretched beyond his means. The man’s the master of the meta-film, and he actually managed to pull off a meta-meta film that meta-struates all over the fourth wall. Consider this: The movie is about a director who’s somewhat imaginatively talented who crumbles under reality in the face of a project that’s beyond his scope.

NVDL: This was an interesting movie for me, because I am right now constructing a fictional account of real life (mine), and adding a few layers of satire to make it both more and less palatable.

I think you need to be something of an artist to enjoy and commiserate with Kaufman. He wants to show everything - the whimsy, the irony, the dreariness, the loneliness, the love, the loss, the misery, the joy of living. He wants to mix it up and mess it up in the way life is messed up. Life is filled with hope and despair, disordered, something beautiful, often gross, sometimes grossly funny. It's confusion with a few stepping stones that make sense through the whirling humdrum of it all.

At time in this movie I thought Kaufman was very wisely showing the sickness of society. That everything we eat is sick, making us sick. He veered off this topic into a mental malaise. There was also the disturbia lurking in the background - the violence and anarchy that is growing behind the walls. That was also profoundly accurate of where the human condition is headed. Whether the unbearability aspect was intentional, I'm not sure. But there is a point where the film starts to fall apart. It unravels becomes less relevant. I considered walking out of the film, just because I was becoming less comfortable watching it. I don't know if it was his intention to show this as a metaphor for life that sometimes seems so fleeting, other times it drags on unbearably.

There are plenty of funerals in this film. The message is that specifics are not important, even if the specifics of our own circumstances are what we claim to define us. In the scheme of things, specifics don't matter. Nothing matters. Everything resembles everything else, and spills into everything else. Don't bother trying to understand it, or try to make sense of it. Just appreciate that each character is the leading role in their movie, and that none of the movies they're living matter. Nothing matters, and everything matters - and in that dichotomy lies an answer to the meaning we give our lives, and we impart to others.


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