Synecdoche, New York

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A theater director with an extremely impoverished personal life is given a grant which allows him to create an ‘ultimate play’ set inside a warehouse somewhere in New York, on which he will work for the remainder of his life. It will never be shown to any audience, although the cast will grow to the proportions of a small-sized one.

The play itself is about the director’s own life, or rather, about some part of his past. His obsessions are his first wife, his first daughter, and a few girlfriends.

There is a drug abuse pattern at work here. Although drugs are never mentioned. Death re-occurs in boring, predictable ways, always followed by trivial release sex, and a lot of whining about loneliness. The tone is melancholic, but too overbearing in how it demands our sympathy, almost junkie-like.

Visually, the major influence on the style is sitcom television. Scenes are established by the simple pattern of an establishing shot followed by a medium shot when it is an actor’s turn to speak. The effect is a lack of ‘visual flow’, un-cinematic, and an accumulation of scenes with the same semblance of tone.

The humor is dark for sure, but seems unintentional, and trivial. On-set jokes seem to find their way into the story through comical pauses, or funny turns of phrases, but they are not enough to uplift the overall stilted drama.

But regardless, this film has its place somewhere in my imagination. Why? Because it is about the very attractive notion that the material for good art can come from one’s own life, and that this allows a more direct connection with an audience.

So we have one sad dude, whose one-trick pony is to insert personal references in his work. And somewhere in the world, somebody keeps funding his sad enterprise, regardless of quality or substance.

Here’s what this should have been:

Ambitious theater director receives unlimited budget to produce an ‘ultimate play’. He makes it about his life, which is about his love: his wife, and daughter. It is a great success, it influences future generations, it succeeds in fostering a sense of belonging in lonely artistic souls. The market opens up for quality, personal, subjective works of art. We all lead more fulfilling lives because of it.

Here’s what it really is:

Privileged screenwriter faces the truth about himself: he is a clever hack with some cool ideas about self-reference in story structure. Despite his professional success, his personal life is unfulfilling. His wife and daughter leave him.  (I presume he also abuses drugs, which would explain the house that is constantly on fire in the story). Instead of attempting to build a new life for himself, he wishes for his own death. He gets it, but too far down the line after having alienated most of his potential audience. A celebration of the appetite for destruction, without understanding it.

I would be happy to be corrected if I’m wrong.

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Categories: Notes

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