Film At about 3:15 this afternoon, I finally pulled the coat that had been sitting in my lap for two hours over my head as the room swelled with jingly-jangly music and I sat in my own personal darkness trying to gather my thought processes back into a state which would allow me to stand up, put on said coat, pick up my back pack and make my way out of the cinema. The credits were rolling on Charlie Kaufman’s new(ish) film Synecdoche, New York and I simply didn’t know what to do with myself. I was elated, pleased, excited and knew two things. That I couldn’t wait to see it again and again and also that I was looking forward to reading the inevitable film theory spin-offs.
Reviewers have been desperate to label the film a ‘masterpiece’ but none of writing I’ve seen has noted the film’s debt to the great auteurs, giants like Tarkovsky, Bunuel, Resnais, Fellini and Tati, directors who treated their audience with intelligence and respect with work in which ideas took precedence over explaining the plot and offered a visual contract that asked us to use our own imagination and personal experience to explain the order of events and character motivations. Like Kaufman, they’ve also been accused of self-indulgence which isn’t necessarily incorrect; but everyone with a personal vision is self-indulgent and more often than not the really interesting, surprising work comes when that vision hasn’t been compromised.
Many of the films of those directors have moments in which the viewer finds their understanding being stretched, which probably require a pause to check some director’s notes. Synecdoche is replete with such incidents, though like those films too, the ideas and themes coalesce afterwards as they did for me on the train home. That if we’re not all careful we can all find ourselves in a state of recursion trying to recreate the times when we truly comfortable rather than creating something new, a constant state of discontentedness that leads us to miss the moments when we actually should be contented. I'm growing my hair longer again because I remember being happier when I had longer hair. That sort of thing. Or we become afraid of taking risks in case that contentedness is wrecked, leading to a kind of emotional paralysis.
Nothing appears at Google Scholar yet. There’s the fittingly titled, “Debating Inclusion in Synecdoche, New York: A Response to Gresham and MacMillan” which is about “the comparative development of socialization skills in children with disabilities placed in inclusive or non-inclusive educational programs” but these things take time, critical mass must build, the film is too new. In interviews, Kaufman has said that he only wants to create films which lead to at least one conversation afterwards and he must have succeeded; for years to come I suspect, people will be debating the meaning of the work, from its structure to themes to meaning and not just in film classes, but psychonalysis courses. And mathematics labs too.