Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Unraveling "Synecdoche, New York"

I've only come across a couple of truly worthwhile explanations/deconstructions of Charlie Kaufman's bafflingly brilliant new film Synecdoche, New York. Personally, I didn't even try to properly review the film, as doing so would have devolved into pretentious, over-analyzed drivel. So I've left that heady task to two much superior writers who have taken on the challenge to varying degrees. Both are essential reads for champions (and maybe more importantly, for dissenters) of the film.

The first is by Manohla Dargis of the New York Times.

The second is Roger Ebert's 4-star review and, more substantially, his just published accompanying blog post, "O Synecdoche, my Synecdoche!", in which he compares the film to great literature, while taking the time to acknowledge and refute the haters. Here, he has some words for Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman (who gave the film a D+ rating):
"Yes, Owen, I think "Synecdoche, N.Y." is a masterpiece. But here I've written all this additional wordage about it, and I still haven't reviewed it. How could I? You've seen it. How could I, in less time than it takes to see the movie, summarize the plot? I must say that in your finite EW space, you do a heroic job of describing what happens. But what happens is not the whole point. The movie is about how and why the stuff that happens--happens. Might as well try to describe the plot of Ulysses in 800 words or less. All you can do is try to find a key. Just in writing that, I think I have in a blinding flash solved the impenetrable mystery of Joyce's next novel, Finnegans Wake. It is the stream of conscious of a man trying to write Ulysses and always running off to chase cats."
This is one film where I can truly say that you owe it to yourself to see it. No matter your opinion of the finished product, it is impossible not to come away thinking. And how many movies can make that claim nowadays?


inRO said...

I like both these reviews because they acknowledge the fact that all detractors of this film (like myself) aren't just close-minded imbeciles. I saw this with Luke in Toronto and disliked it quite a bit (I didn't hate it, not completely). I knew people would like it, but I stand by my assessment of the film-- which I haven't put into writing; Luke's reviewing it next week.

I'm not generally a big Kauffman fan anyway, so I wasn't particularly surprised about my reaction. I love 'Malkovitch', I like about 2 thirds of "Adaptation" and I like (not love) all of 'Eternal Sunshine'. I think this is his weakest work, and proves, at least to my mind, that he needs someone to reign him in a bit-- namely Jonze or Gondry.

If not reign him in, than at least keep him from his otherwise fatalistic tendencies-- the humor in 'Synecdoche' always seemed forced and awkward, unlike that found in 'Malkovitch' and "Adaptation" (the latter's humor, at least to some degree, felt natural). There's something about a Kauffman screenplay, especially 'Synecdoche' that feels very mannered, dare I say quirky.

The best comparison I can think of is Lynch. While Lynch makes films, in my opinion, that spring out of madness and inspiration, tempered with fierce attention to detail and structure, Kauffman intelectualizes too much, and tempers that compulsion with left field obscurity and strangeness, that rarely feels as if it means anything.

And further more, no one has been able to explain to me WHY that damn house was on fire in 'Synecdoche', and until they do...


Jordan Minnesota said...

We will have to agree to disagree about the merits of "Synecdoche" Sam. I also love Being John Malkovich, but I have equal love for Adaptation (my #1 film of that year), and Eternal Sunshine. I don't feel "Synecdoche" quite hits that level of brilliance, but that is okay with me, as this is a completely different set of intentions for Kaufman this time. I think this film may be as much about Kaufman as Adaptation was, and personally, I wouldn't mind watching it a few more times to unlock all of the it's small details.

Benny said...

Just saw this movie. Seriously, W...T...F...!