Thursday, March 24, 2011

Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is the best film of 2008 ... and 2009. It may also be the best film of 2010. With a one-night revival at The Philoctetes Center this Friday, it could even make your top-ten list for 2011. What other film features a heroically sexually dysfunctional central character, and what other film raises sexual dysfunctionality to its rightful exalted place in the pantheon of human pathology? What other film in the history of cinema is named after a figure of speech? (By the way, Charlie Kaufman should expropriate William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity as the title for his next film). Much is made of the illness of Kaden Cotard, the film’s central character, a theater director whose MacArthur grant supports a lifelong piece of performance art. But Kaden’s malady is life. He is dying of life, a brilliant reference to Samuel Beckett, whom Kaufman outdoes at his own endgame.

Numerous neurological afflictions, including Parkinson’s, manifest themselves throughout the movie. The most significant of these is Capgras syndrome. Capgras, which appears in the film as a name next to a buzzer in an apartment house, occurs when doubt is thrown on the identity of  an otherwise familiar individual. It plays deftly into the estheticizing of reality that takes up the last half of the film. Virtually every element of so-called reality is turned into a scene of the play that Kaden is creating. There is theater within theater, as set pieces reappear in later scenes from the director’s “actual” life. To this Kaufman owes a debt to Pirandello, who is the eminence grise behind Synecdoche. At one point Kaden is proposing new titles for his work—The Obscure Moon Lighting an Obscure World and Infectious Diseases. What about Twenty Post-Modernist Characters in Search of a Mise en Scene?

Come to think of it, Synecdoche is not just the best film of 2008-11. It’s the best American film since Hal Hartley’s masterpiece, Henry Fool (1997).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.