Synecdoche, New York

By Cory Haggart

Mailed on August 21, 2012

Stamp image Air
StarStarStarStarEmpty Star

Dear Karl Sison
Dirt Removal

Dear Karl,

What a job! You had to clean up after the most brazenly defiled movies in recent memory. There are no unsoiled nooks or crannies, no moments of clarity, and certainly no tidy resolutions to be found. This isn't an artsy film you can just watch for clean-cut profanity or nudity (though there is some). This is a grimy, heart-wrenchingly authentic and baroque mess. This is a movie that muddies the divide between American and "foreign" films. This is a project that's touching, dangerous, tentatively rewarding, and drenched in self-indulgence. Your task to keep things pristine was therefore impossible, which somehow feels perfect.

I admit I didn't see it coming. I have enjoyed Charlie Kaufmann's scripts, and remember my initial consternation about the fact that he directed this new film himself. The story follows the saddest man alive (Philip Seymour Hoffman, reprising his roles), a theatre director whose sudden windfall sends him on a journey towards true and complete artistic honesty. Helping him dig into the depths of his soul are companions and foils played wonderfully by Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, and more.

What could have been a sterile revenge story becomes hopelessly complex when confronted with the dirty reality of artistic endeavors and acts of the will. Did you think Unforgiven was honest? Was Atonement about how it really feels to regret something? Only if you remove all the fertile, tactile, real dirt of everyday life. Despite the focus on authenticity, this is not a movie of tiny truths. Reality itself is turned on its head. The passage of time, the limits of ambition, the realities of the human body are dealt with head-on.

It also reminds me that Synecdoche, New York came out in 2008--the same year as The Dark Knight. If the narrative post-mortem is that the Joker role was simply too much for Heath Ledger, then there should be no possible way that Philip Seymour Hoffman is still alive. He may always play the sad sack, but it's too easy to forget how compelling, vulnerable, and continually believable he is. The way he truly gets under the skin of dark characters is almost unhygienic.

I may be late to the party, but this movie offers a timeless and open invite. If it seems I'm being vague, it's not on purpose. You can't explain this movie. Although it may not be of quite the same caliber, it belongs in the same conversation as Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. This could only exist as film. And that in itself is an achievement. The real dirty trick is that all the people that do see the movie will think it's about_ themselves.

Happily Debased and Besmirched,


comments powered by Disqus
(% endraw %}