Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York ★★★★★

I watched this movie a long time ago. Late highschool, early college maybe? A decade's passed, maybe a bit more. I probably found it on some godawful IMDB list or something of surreal movies. Weird movies are cool, they're unpredictable, maybe it's even nice that they're a little impenetrable to outsiders. I'd discover things like Eraserhead and feel like it was something dangerous that no one else knew about. The internet was in full swing but still... smaller, then. Now I can have 13 year olds call me an uncultured fool for not having watched The Turin Horse or something. That movie probably didn't exist when I watched this. If it did, I wasn't gonna watch it, it's about a damn horse or some dirty people or something. I'd put on that new movie Antichrist instead and watch Willem Dafoe's genitals get destroyed and get to both feel like I was somehow unique for watching things other people find too extreme while also maintaining the hip artistic smart person veneer.

So this movie was cool. It was confusing, messed with your perspective a lot. I probably didn't even follow all the parts you're meant to, much less start thinking about themes and life and shit. This guy's playing people playing people playing himself or something, whoa dude. It was a fun little movie house of mirrors, sure people moped around but they did it in bizarro world so that's fun to watch.

The second watch I guess is coming back and going "wow he's me!". I mean not in his relationships and loneliness exactly, thankfully. But the depression, the uncertainty, the crumbling body, certainly. I'm writing this at 30 so a lot of people would scoff but after covid I sure relate to loads of mysterious problems popping up, wondering "is this one gonna kill me?" I still have a lot of lingering damage from long covid; I doubt I'll ever be as able bodied as I once was. Though I mostly don't get to even have doctors fail to help me because the US healthcare situation leaves me just on my own. As I write this right now I've had bad pain and tingling in my right hand/arm for a bit. I'm not directly tying that to long covid right now (I mean, I seem to have general inflammation so it wouldn't be completely absurd, maybe), just making a point. I shouldn't even be typing this much, it'll probably make it worse. At this point though, it feels genuinely to me like taking care of my body is a little superstitious ritual. I eat a vegetable or do the tiny amount of exercise I can tolerate now in exactly the same way someone might throw a coin in a well and wish for health. Both seem to work out the same way.

A lot of people bounce off this hard for being too self serving. It's a movie for no one but Kaufmann. I'm not even going to disagree with that. But look, it's about a guy uncertain he can do anything but regurgitate what he's already seen. Maybe he doesn't know himself, maybe he knows himself so well he can't stand it. How's he gonna make things for other people? He genuinely can't get out of his own head long enough to do anything but fixate on recreating and recreating his own life in the hope of hitting on something before his upcoming death, consuming his thoughts. It's very honest, probably flawed in its own honesty. I don't see it as pretentious masturbation, or at least it only is in the sense that looking at someone this neurotic who's been set this free truly is offputting.

Or are we all this neurotic? That seems to be where Kaufmann arrives. I don't know. I'm not going to tell you the truth of other people's minds in a goddamn letterboxd review. I've wondered it myself at times. Maybe people hate seeing someone make something so maudlin and self pitying and casting the whole world in its most miserable because they really don't relate, or maybe it's because they can't stand to. I don't know. Fittingly, to match the material, this review is just for me.

As you can tell I'm in some ways just as neurotic so it's no news to me when I relate to the man who seems to be a cosmic joke careening from disaster to disaster. I mean, he's not me in important ways, but the body deterioration hits too close to home, as does the overall desperation to beat an end that always feels too near. I'm living all of that so I know how it feels. It is, however, a bit startling to remember that time when I first watched this. It was new and fun, but none of it felt real, just a big surreal circus act for my enjoyment. How quickly some things change.

I really believe a lot of contradictions. The entirety of art is more or less premised on being able to externalize our experiences for other people to share in and somehow relate to or gain from, right? But when all a movie can really do is reflect the person who made it, maybe it's most honest to forget an audience exists and just hurl out all of your own angsts like this. It may be true that all this movie has to say is "I have no idea what I'm doing" but hey, me too. Just have to switch who the "I" refers to.

Is that even a contradiction? I had this feeling there was one in how I felt, but it's not really contradictory necessarily to make a thing all about you and have others learn from that. You don't have to consider an audience to have an audience. But a feeling remains that I'm just not phrasing it the way it sits in my head. It felt fitting, in the context of this review, to just go on and let you know how I think the last paragraph is nonsense. You want to argue with me about why my review is bad? I promise you're not even half as good as me at criticizing me; I've got all the experience in the world.

Of course, for those who agree with me the movie is good, there's sort of an ironic contradiction for it to feel so shaky and sad and confused and scared. The man made a good movie that might just be about how he doesn't think he can do anything at all. Guess I need to not dwell too much on how I relate to the feelings, while my big accomplishments are often on the order of magnitude of "used the telephone" or "did 5 minutes of exercise."

Is this self indulgent? Good, I fuckin' hope so. Everyone should indulge themselves once in a while. My best guess at other people's thoughts is that all of us at least have some part in our heads that is as confused and scared about what's going to happen and what we're going to do, though it's probably louder for some than others. In that case, on some small level, when being truly honest, we can relate at least a little, right?

Some will find this writing too dramatic. That's another of those contradictions -- I think you're correct, and I also think that there are probably no sentences that could ever be created within the limitations of language that truly convey just how bad people can feel sometimes. It's probably true for good feelings too, but suffice to say, while I won't say they're gone, I was more frequently acquainted with those the first time I watched this.

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