Anything to add about Synecdoche, New York?

He started writing on all these slips of paper after he made sure to close every window in the house.

Not really, except that I can brag about knowing the meaning of the word—and thinking that it sounded just like Schenectady—at least a year or two before I had even heard about this film. This is all thanks to one of those great, fabled college professors who heavily influenced my development for years and years—a kind of person whose existence is certainly doubted by those who have never had the pleasure of feeling their mind molded into something far more expansive and curious than it had ever been before. A brain turned into a nebula! But I was gifted with the presence of several of these people over the course of my short life.

Anyway, about the movie, yes, at first glance it’s easy to conclude that I don’t get it, but I think people who say I don’t get it actually understand a lot more than folks like Roger Ebert, who in his review went totally astray and really got suckered into believing that there was some kind of interesting and unique point to this mess. But thankfully Matt Cale hit it on the head. This movie makes no sense and is, in fact, kind of boring and annoying. There is as much wisdom here as you’d find in a fortune cookie or a lottery ticket. By the end of it I was yawning more than breathing.

Annoying people react to further incidences of random quirkiness.

What’s the root of this philistinism on my part?—another favorite professor once told me the philistine hates every work of art he cannot understand (and when it comes to concept art I hate it, but understand that it works better conceptually than in actual practice (who wants to look at a fucking kitchen sink in an art gallery?))—so the trick is to know your enemy before you decide to hate him. I think an obvious sign of the badness of this film is its cheap reliance on sappy music to give its everyday sentimentality—“I’m annoying, fat, ugly, worthless, and sad, so please, please give a shit”—more gravitas than such commonplace ideas would ever warrant on their own without the assistance of music.

You see all kinds of people like this on the street every day, people who excite pity. Then you forget about them and move on. If you were forced to watch a film about each pathetic person you saw on the street with lots of monotone mumbling and crying and sad music you would probably feel more for them at first—and I did like this movie at first—but then you would get bored and start wondering when if ever these characters would grow or mature into something greater than themselves—at least I would. And if you watched film after sentimental film of these poor buggers, you would figure out all the cinematic tricks that are put in place to make you cry. Sad music when people hug after yelling at each other. Sad music when people shed crocodile tears. Sad music when people beg each other for forgiveness when one is (apparently? maybe? probably) on her deathbed. Slow whiteouts when someone dies at the end. It’s cheap, it’s weak, and it’s beneath the work of an artist who has put together much better films in the past—Eternal Sunshine is on everyone’s favorite movie list and Being John Malkovich is a riot.

I am ugly and sad which means you should care about me.

So the sentimental music is the most obvious case in point that the movie is trying to make up for itself. Great emotions do not need music to help them along—although of course music by itself, like any work of art, is (or should be) an outburst of great emotion—and great, good, beautiful films do not need music to make you cry (although almost all of them rely on music to help things along). Whose eyes could stay dry while watching the end of a perfectly silent and muted City Lights? And what sort of person could keep from being mesmerized into all kinds of odd emotional states while watching a music-less version of Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo? This is a little point but I’ve expanded it so much here (into unreadability for the average reader) because it’s possible no one else has written about it with respect to this particular bad film.

Another thing: Nabokov counsels us against judging a work of art based on whether or not we relate to the characters, but we’re only human and we can’t help it. I didn’t relate to anyone in this film. It’s not because they were all stupid, annoying fuckups—and they were—but because I could discover no motivations for any of their actions, and, as the film wore on, as the film bore on, they began behaving increasingly, seemingly, randomly, with plenty of sentimental moments mixed into the randomness in an attempt to provide some kind of unity to the general incoherence. I am not the only one who threw up his arms in despair when one of the main characters bought a house that was perpetually burning down. Why. I don’t really understand why there was a blimp in a few of the shots. Why. The crazy old lady (who may be the same crazy old lady from the beginning of Ghostbusters) makes even less sense than most of the other characters. I don’t know what the hell happened to the repulsively fat man’s daughter. I find it difficult to believe that any of the numerous beautiful women in this film could be attracted to any of the numerous ugly men whom they freely slept with (is there a single handsome man to be found in any of the shots here? is there a single ugly woman?). For some reason there is background social unrest toward the end of the movie. Why?!?!

All aboard the Tearful Redemption Express!

The time we see at the beginning is mentioned at the end—for what possible reason? WHY!??!!?!? Is the guy going to be reborn into his own play or something? Oooh, how deep! Unlike Matt Cale I enjoyed the meta-meta-meta moments but I myself prefer a cop chasing a tramp around in a house of mirrors and think that has far more to say about the human condition than actors playing actors playing actors. Layers like that do not necessarily add depth; reading Freud and Jung and then putting Freud and Jung in your movie does not necessarily add depth. To have depth, you need something to add depth to, and underneath these layers (which anyone can create just by saying I know that you know that I know that you know…) there is absolutely nothing.

This is the point: show us weird stuff, great, wonderful, show us beautiful stuff, great, wonderful, but if you lose track of whatever story you are trying to tell, if your characters shift their beliefs and allegiances on a whim of the plot, you can count everyone but yourself out. If it’s all just a strange, random dream, why are we supposed to care?

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One thought on “Anything to add about Synecdoche, New York?

  1. Deano says:

    Hello, I have just come across this review and would like to say that I enjoyed the movie and it made me reflect on own my life. Did the burning of the house represent something about Hazel being unhappy? Anyway, I suppose this movie it isn’t for everybody. It is a very interesting film for me, it has made me realize that if I can aspire to be anything ‘bigger than myself’ I will still grow old and die one day. Nice to read your review.

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