Robert pretty much sums up how I feel about this film, except I love it. A while after I first saw it I thought that there wasn’t that much to it and that all the puzzles didn’t really go anywhere, but there’s really no need to worry about them – It IS a very simple story told in a complex way, but it’s a really effective way, too.
That being said, though, when I meet someone who extols this film or says that it’s their favorite film I question their judgment and nearly dismiss their opinion because it seems like most people who love it are all about assigning specific meanings to all the weird things where I think there isn’t really any meaning to be found. Whether there’s meaning to be found in the quirky things or not, though, the film does a really good job of investing me in the story and there are some really great emotional scenes that stick in my head.
“People are struggling with the “what” instead of the “how” of the film and for me, that is bad filmmaking. I was never able to realize the gestalt of the film – I didn’t have the aha! as I did with Denis’ L’ Intrus, Shepitko’s Wings, or Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation.”
I actually had the opposite reaction and interestingly, assuming I understand what you are saying, I agree that films that gain resonance through the cleverness of ‘what’ usually lose their luster once you figure out that part. But, isn’t SNY more than the ‘what’?
‘What’ can be a hook to get people interested (especially some of the younger viewers with less life experience to have resonance with its themes) but even if you throw out all the ‘what’, the essence of the film still stands on its own.
Also, the films that you have listed above (I haven’t seen Wings) are less denser (compared to SNY, if you include its ‘what’ part). What a person likes is indeed a personal preference but is being denser really a bad thing?
(I also understand how concentrating on the ‘what’ part can turn off some viewers. It is a common trick to get films more interesting and Kaufman’s own ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ is a good example – once you take away the ‘what’, it is a slight movie since it is much less denser than SNY…)
Also, I don’t understand why some people (Ari, for example) appear to say that SNY is a downer. In a way, one of the criticisms that can be waged against SNY is that it tries to be ‘too cute/clever’ to lessen its effect rather than being a straight forward downer. You can’t satisfy everyone…
I think I reached the conclusion that SNY is great by thinking along these lines: consider only the story and imagine how it would be if it had been told straight forward. Now look at how Kaufman does it and see how the various choices he has made to convey the story works well as a whole (and I like 8 1/2 because of similar reasoning too).
I cross-posted with Nate and I think we are more or less saying the same thing.
It is easily in my top 10 favorite films of all time and one of the best films of all time. It is a film that show’s purely film coming into its own as an art form. In all honesty film is a bastard child of many art forms and very few directors have managed to make it come into its own. This is one of those rare films.
also, this is a film that (myself included) cinephiles/filmmakers i know personally watched this film at least 2-4 times in a row after their first viewing, and not in a bad way.
Anti-intellectuals hate this film.
oh, i see…anti-intellectuals hate this film…right….so people who hate Synecdoche but love films by Rivette and Ruiz are what….semi-intellectuals?
please don’t insult your superiors Ehrenstein or at least try to be modest about your “knowledge”.
Pseudo-intellectuals love this film.
(Just kidding but come on, two can play that game and it’s very unmubi-like behaviour).
Re intellectuals: The only thing they can think about is how to sell themselves not too cheap! How to get as much as possible for their every emotional movement! 01:23:08 Stalker (1979) DIR Andrei Tarkovsky
SNY is dense – then how is it dense?
Nate answers thus: assigning specific meanings to all the weird things where I think there isn’t really any meaning to be found
Is SNY complex in its simplicity or is it dense in its emptiness?
Clement Greenberg: “…a great work of art …it is a thing possessing simultaneously the maximum diversity and the maximum unity possible for that diversity.”
Dimitiris’s modesty is ever-so entertai9ning.
….entertaining spelled with a 9
I think that there was specific meanings intended for some of the “weird things” and others may have been left open to interpretation of the viewer.
I don’t think SNY is the greatest film ever made, I was just intrigued by it and started this thread with the thought of discussing some of the intriguing aspects. Maybe the conclusion would be that it was empty and meaningless, but since it has kept me thinking for the last 4-5 days, I like it.
Is it great art? Who knows. Is it as good as Fellini, Tarkovsky or Sheptiko? I have no idea. Does it need to be? No.
“SNY is dense – then how is it dense?”
For example, there are a lot of things that happen in the film. (To stay within the spirit of the topic lately, that statement sounds trivial thing but only because you are trivially interpreting it… ;-) ) The story itself covers a man’s life from his middle age crises to the end of his life. Also, if you pay attention to the mise-en-scene, there is much more information that is being conveyed in a scene/sequence (the objects/characters in the frame, various repetitive elements within the story, make up, sound, etc.) than many other films. Maybe you should give it another spin?
Maybe you should give it another spin?
If I can help it, I only watch a mubi once….
“Anti-intellectuals hate this film.”
Kaufman’s too smart and self-involved for his film’s own good. Instead of creating music he creates math. This scene plus this scene equals…
He needs to relax and also try writing characters who aren’t simply externalizations of his main characters neuroses.
You could say the film is anti-intellectual itself. Caden overcomplicates, overanalyzes, strives for absolute perfection, etc. This is obviously a reflection of Kaufman, and it’s evident in the film that he does the same kind of thing as his character. All the little intellectual bits he puts in end up getting muddled and confused and by the end, amongst the wreckage, the only thing left is emotion. That’s what he’s saying. I think it’s a big deal.
Dang! That’s a really great interpretation, Matt!! I like that a lot!
I really don’t understand how this film is uplifting to some people. While I give it five stars, I find it utterly terrifying, to put it simply. I want to watch it more often but I’m afraid it would cause me to end myself. I don’t suffer from depression or anything like that, either, but this film just destroys my desire to want to continue living.
Matt: And that emotion is “Poor me”.
Caden is so enthralled with the thoughts in his own head (and Kaufman in his) that he never stops to ask anyone else what they might be thinking. He never listens. This parallels with Kaufman’s filmmaking, as he wastes the dozens of great actors at his disposal in an exploration of his own self-pity. This is why it’s such a depressing film, and perhaps why Jah had such a reaction.
I promise I’m not trying to be too salacious, but what was Kaufman’s intent with all those boobs during the first third or so of the film? Beyond the maternal metaphor which might be too base for Charlie…
The first two times I saw Synecdoche, it was an emotionally crippling powerhouse. The third time I saw it, it became a very uplifting movie. My interpretation of the movie is currently that no matter how shitty and alone you feel in your life, there is someone else out there experiencing it. That we all feel alone but are not.
“What was once before you – an exciting, mysterious future – is now behind you. Lived; understood; disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence, and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone’s experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter. Everyone’s everyone. So you are Adele, Hazel, Claire, Olive. You are Ellen. All her meager sadnesses are yours; all her loneliness; the gray, straw-like hair; her red raw hands. It’s yours. It is time for you to understand this.”
He is not literally these people. We live in a society where you’re told you are an individual, someone special. This can help feed our alienation from others. In the end, we are all in the grand scheme of the human condition, the same. We all feel shame, guilt, loneliness, unrequited love, etc etc.
It’s the very thing that attracts me to more depressive fair. It’s because sometimes in life you feel like you’re the only one experiencing a specific emotion, and then comes a movie that you relate to. A movie that tells you you’re not the only one. This movie is that, but for every emotion I’ve ever felt. This to me is, amongst other reasons, why it’s a masterpiece.
PS – I love your interpretation Matt.
People are acting to defensive against those calling it dense. In my opinion, great art need not be liked by everyone. But it should be talked about, it’s intriguing to read all these different types of interpretations and defenses. From what it sounds like though most of the people still have not cracked its meaning, or purpose.
But does it need to be understood? The constantly burning house? The third relationship that seems to remain in that great doom? The doubles? I think this film is a mystery but not in the way that Mulholland Dr. was, because it’s evocative imagery and ideas seem more subtle and more engaging on a human level.
I do think this is one of those great achievements like C Kane. it just needs more time to become appreciated in a different way. I think its main purpose as a film, was maybe, to search for it’s own purpose?
Here’s some cool stuff, including some quotes from Kaufman about some of the imagery. The following is from Wikipedia:
The burning house
Early in the film, Hazel purchases a house that is eternally on fire. At first showing reluctance to buy it, Hazel remarks to the real estate agent, “I like it, I do. But I’m really concerned about dying in the fire,” which prompts the response “It’s a big decision, how one prefers to die.” In an interview with Michael Guillén, Kaufman stated, “Well, she made the choice to live there. In fact, she says in the scene just before she dies that the end is built into the beginning. That’s exactly what happens there. She chooses to live in this house. She’s afraid it’s going to kill her but she stays there and it does. That is the truth about any choice that we make. We make choices that resonate throughout our lives.”
Miniature paintings and the impossible warehouses
Both Caden and Adele are artists, and the scale on which both of them work becomes increasingly relevant to the story as the film progresses. Adele works on an extremely small scale, while Caden works on an impossibly large scale, constructing a full-size replica of New York City in a warehouse, and eventually a warehouse within that warehouse, and so on, continuing in this impossible cycle. Adele’s name is almost a mondegreen for “a delicate art” (Adele Lack Cotard). Commenting on the scale of the paintings, Kaufman said, “In [Adele’s] studio at the beginning of the movie you can see some small but regular-sized paintings that you could see without a magnifying glass … By the time [Caden] goes to the gallery to look at her work, which is many years later, you can’t see them at all.” He continued, “As a dream image it appeals to me. Her work is in a way much more effective than Caden’s work. Caden’s goal in his attempt to do his sprawling theater piece is to impress Adele because he feels so lacking next to her in terms of his work,” and added, “Caden’s work is so literal. The only way he can reflect reality in his mind is by imitating it full-size …. It’s a dream image but he’s not interacting with it successfully.”
There are various clocks throughout the film. The opening shot is of an alarm clock changing to “7:45”. There are about six more closeups of clocks, inserted as Caden notices them off screen, perhaps signifying his constant preoccupation with death and his desire to achieve something great before his end. The clock in the final scene, a drawing on a wall, again reads “7:45”.
Many reviewers have compared the plot to Jungian psychology. Carl Jung wrote that the waking and dream states are both necessary in the quest for meaning, and Caden seems to exist in a blend of the two. Kaufman describes the dream motif, “I think the difference is that a movie that tries to be a dream has a punchline and the punchline is: it was a dream.” Another concept in Jungian psychology is the four steps to self-realization: becoming conscious of the shadow (recognizing the constructive and destructive sides), becoming conscious of the anima and animus (where a man becomes conscious of his female component and a woman becomes conscious of her male component), becoming conscious of the archetypal spirit (where humans take on their mana personalities), and finally self-realization, where a person is fully aware of the ego and the self. Caden seems to go through all four of these stages. When he hires Sammy, he learns of his true personality and becomes more aware of himself. He becomes aware of his anima when he replaces himself with Ellen. In becoming conscious of the archetypal spirit, he takes on the role of Ellen and finally realizes truths about his life and about love.
References to delusion
In the Cotard delusion, one believes oneself to be dead or that one’s organs are missing or decaying. Caden Cotard’s preoccupation with illness and dying seems related.
When Caden enters Adele’s flat, the buzzer pressed (31Y) bears the name Capgras. Capgras delusion is a psychiatric disorder in which sufferers perceive familiar people (spouses, siblings, friends) to have been replaced by identical imposters. This theme is echoed throughout the film as individuals are replaced by actors in Caden’s ever-expanding play.
In the closing scenes of the film Caden hears instructions by earpiece. This is similar to the auditory third-person hallucination described by Kurt Schneider as a first-rank symptom of schizophrenia.
Play within a play
The film is meta-referential in that it portrays a play within a play.
This theme has been compared to the William Shakespeare line “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
It has also been compared to the music video for Icelandic singer Björk’s song “Bachelorette”. The video portrays a woman who finds an autobiographical book about her that writes itself. The book is then adapted into a play, which features a play within itself. The video was directed by Michel Gondry, who directed Kaufman’s films Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In an interview Kaufman has responded to the comparison, saying “Yeah, I heard that comparison before. The reason Michel and I found each other is because we have similar sort of ideas.”
Thanks for that, other Matt!
Kaufman has become one with cinema. One the only true masterpieces of all time with Tokyo Story, Aguirre The Wrath of God, Decalogue, Apocalypse Now, Vertigo
What do you think accounts for the large gap in opinion between the “Mubi” and Criterion forum? It’s strange that in some “high brow film” places it’s praised like here, but there it’s very mixed, I don’t know I just find that interesting. Here it was voted tenth best film of the deacde, there it was voted 70th or something.
Why do you think this is?
I casually looked at the Criterion forum and some of the detractors were ESotSM fans. Very few of them are going to like SNY or while there are directorial similarities, Kaufman is much less quirky (and thus less annoying, imo) than Gondry.