I’m really not sure how to review this film. I definitely know I’m not yet ready to rank it. I feel like I need to see it at least one more time before really grasping it, but the prospect of seeing it again kind of scares me. I’m only halfway kidding when I say this is either the best film of the year or the worst.
One thing is certain. Charlie Kaufman has created a work of ferociously imaginative art — one that makes his previous flights of fancy seem almost conventional. I consider Kaufman one of the few true geniuses working in film today, and by far the best screenwriter in the business, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and work with him on this one. This is a dense and layered text that demands examination, not the sort of thing you watch once and file between Quantum of Solace and Kung-Fu Panda.
When I told Alex that the film’s name was not Schenectady, New York but Synecdoche, New York, her eyes nearly rolled to the back of her head. It’s exactly the kind of egghead pomposity that turned her off of Kaufman’s Adaptation. But me… I lap this stuff up like buttermilk. I go to the movies for a lot of different reasons — reasons that leave ample room for both James Bond and Jack Black. But one of my favorite reasons is to be challenged and provoked. And films that do so are few and far between.
This film reminds me a bit of Mulholland Drive in the way it begs for analysis but ultimately exists at least partly in some dream place that defies easy (or even hard) explanation. Synecdoche, New York is in fact a tougher nut to crack than that David Lynch masterpiece. It leaps through time and space, from reality to fantasy, from fact to fiction, so swiftly and transparently that it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re seeing at any given moment. It is also one of the most powerfully bleak films I’ve ever seen, obsessed with mortality, decay, heartbreak and loss.
A ringing endorsement, I know. I won’t pretend that this is an easy film to sit through, because it absolutely isn’t. But it has so much to say — about those eternal themes, love and death — and says it in so many inventive and mind-blowing ways, that I absolutely recommend seeing it.
I imagine many people will dismiss it as masturbatory art-house fare and leave it at that. I overheard a man about my age walking out of the theater with an older woman, saying “Admit it, Mom… you hated it.” I got the sense she’d gone at his invitation and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I can completely appreciate where both of them are coming from. Walking out of the theater, part of me was saying to myself… “Admit it, you hated it.”
But I didn’t. I’m confounded by it, stirred by it, confused and disturbed by it. And I’ve been thinking about it non-stop since it ended. I need to revisit it before I can say anything more coherent than that.