Synecdoche, New York
Charlie Kaufman, 2008
#7, 2008 Skandies

More dream logic here, though this time I was willing to stick it out for a bit because some of the surreal turns spoke to me. Kaufman does something with time early on that is really kind of brilliant — you could make a genuinely great movie just about that trick. (spoilers) And as the movie wore on and its thematic concerns became more clear, I began to get the eerie sense that its notorious recursion extended beyond what was built into the script. One of the gimmicks in the film is that the main character starts to find himself in the media he encounters: he's drawn into cartoons, he's in web ads promoting books he's just been given, etc. I started to get a little bit of that same feeling! The entire story is fueled primarily by Autistic Death Terrors™ and centers on a man afflicted by mysterious physical ailments who after some initial small-scale artistic success takes on a project that spirals out of control and winds up taking decades... true, a movie with this much stuff crammed into it is going to speak to a lot of people in different ways, but still, there's something uncanny about watching an intensely recursive movie with a gum-charting scene in it the same day you get your own gums charted. Even the plot thread about the protagonist's first wife and daughter came uncomfortably close to what Elizabeth says my life might be like if I'd had a daughter with Jen. (I'm planning to go to Victoria next month — assuming my new passport arrives in time — and if Lizzie's house is on fire, well, that'll just be the last straw.)

Ultimately, though, the movie devolves into an impenetrable, tedious mess, and I can't really recommend it. The second half did have some interesting moments, including some with IF overtones and a funeral scene that essentially recaps a conversation I had early on in the development of my current project (now in, sigh, its third year). And of course anyone who's written a roman à clef will find that Kaufman's obsession with simulacra has some resonance. But Mick LaSalle nails it: "The movie fails as a piece of entertainment. It fails by even the most indulgent standard. After a promising 45 minutes to an hour, the story derails. Some glimmers of brilliance remain, and they're worth savoring, but mostly Kaufman just spins his wheels in the second half. He repeats the same kinds of scenes over and over until watching the film becomes in itself an existential trial. I don't know if this is praise or criticism, but I've had entire months go by faster than the second hour of this movie."

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