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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lately I've shied away from reviewblogging, partly because I don't think I'm especially good at it but mostly because I haven't been moved to write about anything I've seen. Synecdoche, New York moves me, but only to say "Go see it."

Almost certainly the best film of 2008—only Dark Knight really comes close—and Kaufman's best film since Being John Malkovich, Synecdoche can't really be described without being reduced to a series of gimmicks. I wouldn't even read reviews of it. Just go.

For those who have seen it, or who plan to flaunt my sage advice, the best writing I've seen about Synecdoche has been from Adam Kotsko, who writes, insightfully:

While watching Synecdoche, New York this week, a thought occurred to me: the reviews that presented the movie as an elaborate puzzle requiring multiple viewings to unravel are wrong....

[T]here is, within the frame of the movie, no “underlying reality” that can be uncovered through the work of decoding, not even that of Caden Cotard’s dream. All the action is taking place directly at the surface. That’s what the proposed title “Simulacrum” is telling us (a name he suggests to Claire, not Hazel, pace Dargis).

“What really happened” is only what you can see: Kaufman is being brutally direct. No amount of plot summary can get at what it feels like to be watching this movie, and to get to caught up in trying to decipher “what’s going” on is to run the risk of failing to feel what it feels like to be watching this movie.
I'd even go so far as to suggest that Synecdoche should really only be viewed once. The novels to which one might be tempted to compare it—Ulysses? Pale Fire? If on a Winter's Night a Traveler?—are surely not "elaborate puzzles" to be solved but do possess rich textual subtleties that reward an nth reading. Synecdoche, I fear, may not only lack these subtleties, but may in fact be significantly worse when re-viewed in the context of a known whole.

In particular I'm afraid any rewatch would just direct us more and more towards the notion that [SPOILER—HIGHLIGHT TO READ] Cotard is in the process of dying, likely from suicide committed either very early in the movie or perhaps slightly before it began, and Synecdoche is his dream. To the extent that the suggestion of any "underlying reality" can be deciphered in Synecdoche, it seems to me it can only be this one—and just the slightest taste of that is more than enough.

But wherever they point us, I feel fairly certain the uncovering of any "clues" upon rewatching would only throw the movie's vital ambiguity off-balance. It'd ruin it. Synecdoche's a truly great film, that is to say, but probably just the once.

UPDATE: Copied from Facebook wall scribblings:
my fave reader review from the nyt:

This movie was really boring! Just like life! This movie thought it was original and cutting edge but wasn't! Just like life! This movie has been made before about seven trillion billion times! Just like life! This movie was way too long! Just like life! The first half was okay but the second half made up for it! Just like life! I almost walked out of this movie! Just like life! Some people don't realize how awful this movie is and actually think it is good! Just like life!