Monday, June 21, 2010

Synecdoche, New York: Some Thoughts

Warning: may contain mild spoilers. Not that there were any big reveals anyhow.

I have wanted to see the movie Synechdoche, New York for some time, but this was mostly because a portion of the movie was set in Schenectady, New York where both of my parents grew up, and where I work some days. I was reminded of the movie whilst in Schenectady, actually, substituting and watching Akeelah and the Bee (a movie I'm going to need to watch all the way through sometime soon). Of course, the Bee referred to in this title is a spelling bee, and one of the words given was Synecdoche. They even defined it for you:

I went to the library to look for some other movies my friend says I need to see. Though I was unsuccessful at finding most of those, I did stumble across Synecdoche, New York on the recently returned cart.

Along with Beeswax and Dead Poet's Society, I brought Synecdoche, New York to my parent's camp on Saturday to try and watch with them. Though none of them really seem like films my mom would be into, she said she was interested in watching Synechdoche, New York as well....essentially for the same reasons I was.

The movie started out like many movies that have film festival seals on the case. This is not an indication of anything. I've seen this type of movie and fallen in love, I've seen this type of movie and have felt robbed of my time.

As the film progresses, you begin to get the sense that Philip Seymour Hoffman's character, Caden, is a little crazy and/or neurotic. The first impression that I got from him is that he is a hypochondriac, but this is not really supported by his visits to the doctor, as each doctor he visits recommends he see an entirely different sort of specialist, making ridiculous suggestions with the utmost sincerity. Things really begin to get bizarre when his therapist sells him a book (one that she wrote, one that she charges him forty dollars for). As he begins to skim through it, the information within seems stream-of-consciousness and almost nonsensical. As he reads on, reality becomes dictated by the book. As Caden reads, it is narrated by the voice of his therapist. He sits on an airplane and reads: "There is only the now, and I am always with you. For example, look to your left." When he does so, his therapist is sitting across the aisle from him. In a tone indicating complete sincerity, she says: "Hi. When you canceled, it freed me up, so I'm traveling too." It is at this point that I'm reminded of the movie Fight Club as well as A Beautiful Mind. I start to wonder how and why Caden is crazy, and when we will find out the parameters of this. Caden never seems to question his dream-like reality, and when scenes don't include Caden, the other characters don't seem to question it either. Perhaps the most bizarre scene in the entire film was when Hazel was looking to buy a house, a house which was currently on fire. It's worth watching. I'd have cut this clip a tiny bit shorter, but I'm sure it's not even supposed to be on the internet, so I won't complain:

Caden, who works in theater in Schenectady (if it weren't for the cellphones and newspaper dates reading 2006, I would believe it could have been set in the sixties) receives a large grant to work on a project that he plans to make brutual, true and honest. Time passes and locations change, but these facts are not pointed out and must instead be gathered. The way that these things change, almost unnoticed, I feel gives the film a quality that truly IS lifelike. It's like that Talking Heads song. You know the one. Caden starts his theater project in a large warehouse in New York City, attempting to depict reality. Things begin to get really complicated as he casts people to play the people doing the casting, and then goes on to cast people to play the people that were cast to play the people doing the casting. There is also a warehouse built inside the warehouse with the entire set built inside this. The layers keep piling up and the work for the piece never seems to be done. No one ever really comes to see the piece, but that does not seem to negate its relevance as art. This very much fits into my own personal definition of art, and I thought of recommending the film to my friend who defines art by saying: "I know it when I see it." If you are never able to see it, is it not art? I decided not to specifically recommend the film to him, as I am beyond done having the definition-of-art discussion with him, and I think this film poses more questions than it answers.

The viewer never finds out whether Caden is crazy or dreaming or what, and before you know it, nearly forty or more years have passed. When the film ended I was neither disappointed not extraordinarily fulfilled, but I don't feel that this was a problem. The film was so incredibly layered and textured that even though I have stated many plot details, I don't feel I have spoiled the film at all. It is a movie that I could easily watch several times for a new experience each time and probably one that I should own. Throughout the movie, Caden keeps coming up with new titles for his piece, each of them seemingly obtuse. He keeps stating the importance of the title, and how much is contained within. The word synecdoche, to my knowledge, is never mentioned within the film, and I can't help but consider the title as an important element to this movie. A part that represents the whole, or a whole the represents the part. Well, certainly Caden's warehouse world is a part that represents the larger world, and each smaller part representing the larger, and on and on. Each character playing another character is acting a part that represents the whole of the character the actor is playing, and I think that the whole work represents its part: Caden, the creator. I'm sure if I contemplated this further I could find deeper significance for the title of the film. For now, however, I'll just say: make sure you see it. It's one of those films that sits with you.

1 comment:

sharkeye said...

i've seen this movie twice so far. i'm not sure it matters whether Caden is crazy or dreaming. i think the whole movie could be one big metaphor and Caden just another part of that. it's also possible that the most important meaning the title holds is that it's meaningless.