Did you see Synecdoche, New York? Was the Charlie Kaufman film weird and brilliant, or just too wannabe-weird and unfathomable? The New York Times' Manohla Dargis is heavily in the former camp. Like, heavily.
First there was her glowing review, which praised the film, about a theatre director directing a piece of theatre about his life spent directing theatre, for being weird and, well, unfathomable. At least upon the first viewing. She urged us to see it over and over again. (Disclosure: I haven't even seen it once. But my boss Gabriel, agreeing with many critics, says it's "pretty unbearable.")
And then yesterday she ran a story urging us to dissect the film to inspect all of its glorious, telling parts—lecturing us, of course, on the meaning of the word "synecdoche" while using it as a framing device. Just like the movie does!
“Synecdoche, New York” might be the story of a life condensed into a single minute — specifically, in the minute it takes for 7:44 a.m. to become 7:45 a.m.. — but then, it might not. The film doesn’t answer its riddles in one sitting, which makes sense given it’s about one of the greatest mysteries: a human life. Its dense texture, thicket of literary references, medical terms, mordant jokes, eccentric images and myriad preoccupations are not there simply to drive you crazy (though they might) or show you how smart Mr. Kaufman is, or make you feel clever for catching its allusions. Rather, the film is a representation of Caden’s inner world or, I’m guessing, Mr. Kaufman’s, which of course would make it a synecdoche.
She goes on to put not one but four supporting actresses on her For Your Consideration Oscar nominations list along with placing the film in basically every other possible category. (The online version doesn't have her putting Kaufman down for Best Director, but we're pretty sure she did in the print edition.) Pretty much nobody else agrees with Dargis on her supremely high opinion of the vanity project—it has a 65% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but a good number of the positive reviews weren't ecstatic, Dargis-level raves. That will never dissuade her, though!
It's all a bit like the "oh my god man, you didn't get it? It's about life" statements most every one of us has made at some point about some inscrutable film that we've decided to feel clever enough about to hail as an unheralded masterwork. (Like the French do all the time!) Just like I won't ever be talked out of thinking that Vanilla Sky was a pretty brilliant movie. I'm sure I'll fake-understand and love Synecdoche too, whenever I end up seeing. 'Cause I want to get it.
What's that film for you? The pompous and overbearing I'm Not There? The ridiculous and nasty Funny Games (hi Choire!)? Discuss!