Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Synecdoche, New York": life inside a one's own model world

Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation”) has again given up an interesting example of creative layering in screenplay storytelling, with his latest film “Synecdoche, New York,” from Sony Pictures Classics and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.

Pjilip Seymour Hoffman (as Caden Cotard) is the center of attention as a hypochondriac drama professor, and he is appropriately unpleasant to look at (oh, please, those pustules on his gams). I could rehearse a quip from a 1980s issue of Christopher Street and say that a film like this proves the existence of heterosexuality. There is plenty of it, despite the visual assaults. The film (124 min) is thick and moves in a stream of consciousness, like a dream.

Actually, the concept, for the last two-thirds of the film, is quite daring. Cotard, in the early scenes, has been struggling to direct Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” (1949), where the sets fall down on the actors. That does not deter him when he gets a mysterious grant to create a theater piece (aka Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” – remember that?) in a gigantic warehouse in New York. Kind of like the Elephant Man, he makes builds a model of New York inside the warehouse, and hires actors to engage in a continuously running play of self-definition. He says most people go through life as the star of their own show without a double, but an elderly man shows up for an “interview” with no acting experience and offers to become his doppelganger. Cotard accepts. Gradually, life most into the “play city”, as do the lives of the characters. Cotard has an apartment “inside” and “on the outside,” the latter of which he loses.

The film is shot 2.35 to 1 and the pretend city inside the structure is quite breathtaking. The idea reminds me of my concept of living inside a model railroad, or of being abducted and finding out you have become a simplified figure in someone else’s model world (a precept of my own screenplay “Baltimore Is Missing” which I entered into Project Greenlight in 2004). The idea was one tried on Rod Sterling’s “Twilight Zone”. Finally, Cotard’s world is destroyed, and most people lie around dead. Terrorists? Enemies? Or just natural evolution. Cotard has deteriorated further, is now quite bald and quite tired, and ready to expire.

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