Sunday 5 July 2015

Synecdoche New York

Another film review from April 2010. Looking back on it, I think the film got under my skin and made me uncomfortable more than I’d care to admit, and so I was ruder about it than I needed to be.

Proof that there can be a fine line between profound and viciously irritating.

Here's the high concept: a theatre director discovers an infinite warehouse in New York. He builds a full sized model of New York in it, and hires thousands of actors to use it to create a piece of theatre. But this scale model of New York contains another infinite warehouse with another scale model of New York in it, and the identities of the actors are becoming confused with the identities of their real-life counterparts.

Its much, much weirder than that: there's a woman who has lived in a burning house for three decades, an artist who makes microscopic paintings, and a hyperviolent and critically acclaimed novel about the Ku Klux Klan written by a six year old boy. And all of this heady surrealism is grounded by a cynical little story of a frail man who lives through two divorces, watches the death of his parents, and cannot prevent the sexual abuse of his daughter by her bohemian guardian.

The best way of describing Synecdoche New York is by saying that it resembles a Bad Dream. Not a nightmare – there's nothing viscerally frightening here. Instead, by watching it, you're entering a world where everything feels uncomfortable and wrong, where time doesn't work right, where logic can't be relied upon, and where reality is constantly bending and shifting. If you think you'll enjoy that, then great: it is certainly worth watching.

But it is damnably self-important. By the end, all plot logic has evaporated, and is replaced by a series of heavy handed pseudo-philosophical speeches. The previously interesting characters have warped into cyphers for the writer's ideas, and vehicles for set arguments. While the plot never made logical sense (in a thoroughly fascinating way), its disappointing that the characters stop making logical sense too. Indeed, all the previous weirdness suddenly appears to be directed towards highly specific ends, that aren't nearly as interesting as the writer thinks they are.

It isn't worth trying to analyse and understand all of the crazed ideas here. I'm not sure there's much underneath its surface. Treat it as a mood piece, and you might enjoy yourself. As long as you're capable of enjoying icily cynical views of human nature, and a vaguely diseased imagination

But if – due to a convoluted series of events – you were forbidden from watching more than one film where the psychological journeys of elderly men were depicted using surreal imagery, I’d watch Up instead.

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