Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is not one of those films (e.g., Baz Luhrman’s Australia) that lurches toward the audience with its metaphorical arms wide open, shouting “Love me!”
On the contrary, Synecdoche seems perversely designed to turn off mainstream audiences – like a person who wants to be accepted warts and all, and if you’re not prepared to accept him, her, or it that way … then the hell with you. From a philosophical point of view, the film is saying that if your embrace of life includes only the *good* parts, you’re not embracing life.
Here are three of Synecdoche‘s major “turn-offs”:
The Title: As noted in my initial review, the majority of potential ticket buyers won’t know what a synecdoche is (a part that represents the whole), much less how to pronounce it, or that the title is a pun on the city of Schenectady, New York.
The Emphasis on Disease and Dying: Theater director Caden Cotard, played in the film by Philip Seymour Hoffman (with Samantha Morton, above), wants to stage a performance piece about EVERYTHING. In that respect, he is a stand-in for writer/film director Charlie Kaufman who wants to make a movie about EVERYTHING. “Everything,” of course, includes the three Ds – Disease, Decay, and Dying – an inextricable part of all of our lives that we mostly deal with by way of the fourth D – Denial. Thus, even though the film is equally, if not more, concerned with life’s positive aspects – Love and Creation – the way it constantly reminds us of Caden’s and the other characters’ physical vulnerabilities is a turn-off. Indeed, some people are ready to leave the theater after that first shot of the protagonist’s discolored excreta. (See, for example, the hysterical reaction of Mr. Rex Reed.) If anything, such reactions to the film demonstrate that, all things considered, there is nothing more revolting to human beings than their own insides.
The Absence of Religion: For a film that purports to be about EVERYTHING, the most surprising omission is any reference to churches, religion, or the clergy. (At least, nothing that I can recall.) It’s not that the film has a negative attitude toward religion. Religion, in the traditional sense, simply doesn’t exist in this world. In its place, almost all the film’s characters worship at the altar of Art. They dedicate their lives to it. Alternatively, the entire film can be read as metaphysical allegory of Creation and our role in it. Likewise, the film offers no opinions with respect to the Afterlife. We’re here now, it seems to say, in this particular time and this particular place. Let’s make the most of it.