29 November 2008 | evanston_dad
One of the Most Deeply Affecting Movies I've Seen in a Long Time
It's virtually impossible to summarize my feelings on "Synecdoche, New York." This astonishing brain teaser from the mind of Charlie Kaufman affected me deeply, probably more than any film I've yet seen this year. I can't say it's necessarily enjoyable, because it's full of uncomfortable, brave truths about what it means to be human, and it goes places most movies don't dare to. But watching it is a bracing experience, and it's encouraging to know that there are still filmmakers willing to use film as a means of challenging their audiences and picking at scabs that most people would prefer to remain solidly in place.
I can't begin to tell you what "Synecdoche, New York" means, and it wouldn't matter anyway, because I think it will mean different things to different people. A basic summary goes something like this: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a morose, depressed theatre director who's convinced that fatal diseases are lurking around every blood vessel, and who decides to stage a monstrous, ambitious theatrical work that will leave him remembered after he dies. Soon, the work as he's staging it becomes confused with the life he's living, so that he finds himself directing a version of himself through a story that seems to be made up as it moves along.
If this sounds like an act of mental masturbation by a pretentious intellectual with too much time on his hands, rest assured: "Synecdoche, New York" is not one of THOSE films. I didn't become impatient with Kaufman or his characters, like I have with some of his previous projects. In fact, this film made me uneasy because of how much of it I DID relate to. The conclusions it draws are that we are all alone in this big universe, life doesn't necessarily have any meaning other than what one brings to it, and there is not a higher power who is going to make sure our passage through the world makes sense. It was a bit of a wake up call to hear these beliefs, beliefs that I happen to share, stated so boldly, for while I'm confident in what I believe, that confidence doesn't make the beliefs themselves any less scary.
But depressing and nihilistic as those beliefs might sound, the film is life affirming in its own way. It suggests that too many of us spend too much time trying to make sense of the world and not enough time living in it. We pull back in loneliness and fear when faced with things bigger than ourselves rather than turning to those who can actually help, namely the other human beings with whom we share our time on this planet.
"Synecdoche, New York" will not likely find a big audience, as most people will either not want to work at understanding it or won't like what it has to say. But if you're willing to go into it with an open mind, you might just find yourself amazed.