Synecdoche, New York

I was finally able to watch Synecdoche, New York, the 2008 film that Roger Ebert hailed as the best of the decade.

Like any self-respecting art film, it’s gloomy and barely comprehensible with a decent dose of nudity.

If you watch this movie when you’re happy, you’d be depressed. If you’re depressed, it’ll drive you to get drunk. If you’re drunk, you’d end up calling random people on your phonebook and telling them life is meaningless. If you’re depressed and drunk at the same time, you’d seriously consider downing the bottle of Lysol in the toilet.

Fortunately, I didn’t have a bottle of Lysol in the toilet but the dishwashing liquid on the sink was appealing.

I later learned that the director of Synecdoche wrote and produced Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film that had me wishing for a rerun of Un Chien Andalou. No wonder this movie is sick.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a neurotic theater director who is mounting a play that attempts to portray reality as closely as possible. You know right there that this will not end well. Any plotline with the word “reality” in it is a recipe for emotional catatonia. And Philip Seymour Hoffman has the look of a guy who was born to play miserable characters.

His wife leaves him and takes their daughter with her to Germany. He sees his kid, then 10 years old, in a magazine with a full body tattoo. He fools around with the box office girl who lives in a perpetually burning house (she later dies of smoke inhalation), marries his lead actress who also leaves him eventually, and pretends to be the cleaning lady so he could sneak into his first wife’s apartment and, uh, clean it.

The play, meanwhile, turns into an outlandish production behemoth with a cast of thousands and a replica of New York City inside a warehouse. It drags on and on, struggles to keep up with the pace of real life, becomes real life itself, and never sees opening night.

The neurotic theater director sets out to portray the reality of his existence and ends up with a chaotic charade without an ending. Moral lesson: Life doesn’t have a resolution; you just die. And this movie is riddled with so much death it’ll put a Greek tragedy to shame.

Ebert said Synecdoche, New York should be seen at least twice. He writes, “I watched it the first time and knew it was a great film and that I had not mastered it. The second time because I needed to. The third time because I will want to. It will open to confused audiences and live indefinitely.”

Unless he pays for my therapy, I will not dare watch this again. I am gladly settling for the benign sadness of Toy Story 3. At the very least, nobody died.


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