Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York; drama / tragedy, USA, 2008; D: Charlie Kaufman, S: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Tom Noonan

Caden is a theatre director living in a small town. After a water pipe explodes in his face, he finds himself in a series of health problems. On top of all, his wife Adele leaves him with their daughter, Olive, and goes to Berlin. However, there is at least one good news for him: he gets a prestigious fellowship, and decides to use the money to go to New York and set up a revolutionary play - a one whose topic will be his own life, and a one he and his crew will work on for the next thee decades. As time goes by, and he is still working on his play, he encounters several personal tribulations - his failed relationship with Hazel, his failed marriage with actress Claire, his failed reconciliation with Olive, now a lesbian; the suicide of the actor who plays him in the play... - and decides to use it all in the play, a set which is constructed under a dome. Finally, now an old man, Caden asks an actress to take over his position as a director. The actress in return gives him the assignment to play her role on the set. Before he dies, he reconciles with the actress' mother.

Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut film, "Synecdoche, New York" once again demonstrated all the best and worst from the writer: on one hand, he conjures up a remarkable concept, a one which is highly ambitious, and uses the most outlandish ideas as an allegory for today's state of human kind, but on the other hand, his narrative is so 'autistic' and his characters so joyless, astringent and anaemic that they almost nullify each other. Similarly like Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author", that contemplated how every art is a form of alternate reality, Kaufman here presents a story in which a theatre director crafts a play about his own life, or better said a play which will encompass human life as a whole, but just as he decides to create a megalomaniac project out of it, and construct a whole set in a dome for itself, Kaufman himself seems to be overburdened with a too pretentious overarching reach. Kaufman has a great point in the finale: it is very bitter, and very uncomfortable, and that is why many have rejected the film. However, no matter how unpleasant, a comment can still be true.

Here, the finale is depressive, but shows a brave message how every human is destined to be crushed by life, and how there is only one thing that unifies humanity - disappointment (the fantastic, albeit grim narration: "What was once before you - an exciting, mysterious future - is now behind you. Lived; understood; disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence, and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone's experience. Every single one..."). As much as someone tries to "capture" the entire life in art, and invest his whole lifetime in it, it is futile, since life will "outlive" that ambition. Life is more than one artist's lifetime. It is uncapturable. However, in order to get to that great finale, the viewer has to pave his way through a mass of empty walk, empty dialogues, pretentiousness, tedious scenes and grey, melodramatic scenes. No matter how inspiring an ending is, it cannot compensate for absolutely every omission in the entire film up to it. No ending can. Many have reacted too negatively and dismissed the film completely. That is exaggerated and undue, since the ending has a point. Yet the whole first hour of the film is pointless. "Synecdoche" is not a 'Pyrrhic victory' - it is more like a 'Pyrrhic defeat': it succumbs to its own over-ambition, but uses even that as a cathartic synecdoche for human life in general.


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