A couple of weeks ago, I watched “Synecdoche, New York” with the brilliant Phillip Seymour Hoffman leading a delectable cast of independent actor types. I say “types” because the layers of fiction and nonfiction within the film (and the roles reversed and layered and reversed again) were so head-spinny that it made my head spin like a terrible cliché.
The film was incredible. Incredible that what started out as a dire look at what appeared to be the real world cracked open so deliciously and before me stood actors, cardboard cutouts, people, all echoing each other so brilliantly. In a way, it reminded me of the intricate and mostly successful novel called The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball.
So the film opens with this depressive, apparently hypochondriac theatre director (Hoffman looking really terrible) whose best creative days are behind him. His painter wife (played by the fabulous Ms. Catherine Kinnear) and child soon leave for a show in Berlin without him. From that point on, things (like time, space, etc.) start to crack open. Layers of paint and facade peel off. Hoffman’s character gets involved with a woman who buys a house that is literally on fire. Etc.
Grindingly depressing, maybe.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman holds the work together, like glue for layers of peeling wallpaper that wants to step off the wall and live a life that has nothing to do with two dimensions, thank you.
If you have the time and patience to sit through some grim, horrid, sad “what is the meaning of art?” types of questions, please watch this movie.
The fact of making a movie like this, and the human spirit embodied in a piece of work that sustains the crazy fantasy magical mess that unfolds (and folds back upon itself, several times), to me, proves the point that life is worth living. It is such an incredible work of imagination. This fact: that the filmmaker (Charlie Kaufman) made his film to the end, taking the magic of the world he created seriously is a feat of genius and love. This type of real commitment to something (anything!) magical seems sadly rare in these cynical days.
The mere fact of the film undercuts the miserable character’s quest for meaning, and in a strange way, I found it completely uplifting.