Saturday, July 02, 2011
Movie Review: Synecdoche, New York
You remember that scene in Being John Malkovich where John Malkovich crawls into the portal that leads into his own head? Synecdoche, New York, writer Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut, is like Charlie Kaufman crawling into a portal that leads into his own head. If you didn't understand that statement too well, you now know exactly how I felt watching Synecdoche, New York.
Useful trivia 1: Synecdoche is a figure of speech where either a part is used to describe a whole or a whole is used to describe a part. First example: A captain will say "all hands on deck" when he means "all personnel on deck." Second example: A crook will say "the law is here" when he means "a cop is here."
Useful Trivia 2: The Cotard Delusion is a mental disorder wherein the sufferer believes he is already dead.
Premise: A theater director named Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) gets a grant to make his masterpiece. He stages a strange play inside a gargantuan warehouse in New York. It's a play about his own life and sections of the warehouse are turned to sets representing different places and significant events in his life. As the years and decades pass and the director grows old and the play becomes complex, with actors playing actors who are playing people in the director's life while the real people the characters are based on walk around and work in the play or behind it, our protagonist goes on with his life and struggles with his own unoriginal tragedies.
Still with me?
It's a depressing movie and it forces us to look at how truly small we all are, how insignificant. We are born and we dream and some of us have enough ego to think that we have a shot at greatness, at leaving something behind that will matter long after we die, and we know we are all going to die someday but in our heart of hearts, we don't want to believe it.
Charlie Kaufman's movie, in my opinion, is a masterpiece of existential storytelling. And, just like the protagonist's play, it is ultimately a failure. It's a failure not because it's a bad movie. It's a failure because whatever Kaufman's motive for making it and however much it captures the essence of the smallness of each of our lives, it's just a speck of dust when compared to the vastness of existence.
And the universe does not mourn the passing of a speck of dust.
Charlie Kaufman has issues.