Synecdoche

People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.

~ Thomas Szasz, “Personal Conduct,” The Second Sin, 1973

syn·ec·do·che (sih-NECK-doh-kee) (n.)

A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole (as hand for sailor), the whole for a part (as the law for police officer), the specific for the general (as cutthroat for assassin), the general for the specific (as thief for pickpocket), or the material for the thing made from it (as steel for sword).

I have no idea how this movie slipped below my radar.

While I’m not a particularly huge Charlie Kaufman fan, I adore Philip Seymour Hoffman. Add Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Michelle Williams and Samantha Morton to the mix and holy-freakin’-crap I’ll take a double.

Curse you, my supposedly hip, indie-loving “moving image enthusiasts” for not clueing me in!

You’re all fired!

I will now be taking recommendations from my favorite theologian, Kathy @ The Carnival in My Head. She’s never let me down.

There is no nutshell description for Synecdoche, New York. I tried to find one, but none of them do it justice; as my favorite film critic put it, “It will open to confused audiences and live indefinitely.”

I’ve felt this way about a few different pieces of art in my lifetime . . .

Life of Pi

Magnolia

Donnie Darko

Amores Perros

Man on Wire

And now this. I’ve watched it twice in just under twelve hours and, if I can wrangle the TV away from the kids and their as-of-late nonstop Harry Potter marathon, I just might sit through it again tonight. I’ve laughed, cried, and shuddered.

It’s that good.

Maybe I’m just open to this sort of movie more than usual at this point in my life. The main character, Caden Cotard, is a theater director. He’s 40. Balding. And completely lost. He does what he does, moving from production to production, with his sanity lagging half a block behind. He’s mysteriously ill. Or maybe a hypochondriac. He imagines how things will be and then sees them that way, regardless of the fact that they make no sense. Cotard is an island, with cast and crew in tow, striving to play God in his own life and the lives of others on one hand, while bemoaning the very possibility of his existence on the other.

This movie unfurls magestically at one moment, and then folds pack onto itself the next. The images are startling yet downplayed. Like life – the whole and the part. As Ebert put it (and he puts it way better than I ever could), Synecdoche, New York “encompasses every life and how it copes and fails. Think about it a little and, my god, it’s about you. Whoever you are.”

Indeed.

See this movie, dear Tweaker. Better late than never. You’ll thank me . . .

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15 thoughts on “Synecdoche

  1. i’m so glad you loved it, i somehow knew you would! i keep thinking about that house on fire…and the little pictures…and the walled up rooms….and all the different actors playing actors playing actors…

  2. Thanks for the suggestion, I just added this to my RVD (Canadian Netflix) based solely on Charlie Kaufman and PSH. I have loved every Kaufman movie I\’ve seen (Being John Malkhovich, Eternal Sunshine, even Adaptation).

  3. Oh, now, I have to remember why? I know I gave up on it after an hour. After an hour, I really didn’t care what happened to these characters and that is my litmus test.

    Despite actors of sublime gifts (I think Seymour is flat out the best actor EVER)…
    To refresh my memory I watched your clip. Here’s what I remember. I started out in my living room chair delighted to see the opening credits and then it began. And, after a bit, I’m looking at the books on my coffee table. I’m thinking, “Focus..focus…it’ll get better any minute… I occasionally smiled at dialogue, at situation, because Philip Seymour’s character is the equivalent of a catatonic depressed person who can speak and we’ve not often heard them speak (if you’re catatonic, you are speechless by definition)…his world speaks back to him in oddly stylized brutal fashion as well…Keener’s character….in the end, I guess for me, not many likeable characters even in their pain. End of ballgame for me if you are this depressed AND hopeless and ANGRY and relentlessly self-centered.

    Woody Allen characters of high intelligence, tics, neuroses, life flattening experiences, but in the end, all they were serving up (at least in the hour I watched) was their catatonia to me and in this past year I could serve up my own reasons to be unconscious.

    Obsessional folk are often creative…ahem…clearing my throat…but 17 years of play rehearsals? I understand the point…but it was the execution of this movie that ultimately clicked the “off” button for me.

    But, you loved it. Yes, that surprises me, but perhaps you have a greater tolerance for darkness? And, compassion.

    Excuse me, I have to go watch Housewives of New Jersey. (Kidding, kidding…)

    • Thanks for sharing, Pat.

      While I did find the lessons the movie offers intriguing, for me it was the execution. It is a wonderfully made film. Dianne Wiest, in her few moments of face time, made the movie for me. She’s the voice in his head at the end, a poignant twist to all that came before.

      It’s a movie that needs repeat viewing to truly appreciate, I think . . .

  4. Repeat viewing? O. sweet jesus. No, I’m not doing that. But, Diane Wiest? O, yeah. Always, always good. This was a fantastic cast and I’ll leave it at that.

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