Posts Tagged 'Charlie Kaufman'

#4 – Synecdoche, New York

Perhaps the most divisive film of the year among serious and intelligent movie-lovers, here is a film about themes no less lofty than: the meaning of life; the meaning of art; the tangled relationship between the two, and the point at which those two entities become indistinguishable from each other. Also, the fear of death and its relation to the aforementioned themes. Also, narcissism and particularly how it afflicts the artist and the tangled relationship between it and every other word in this description so far.

Choose your own adventure

Choose your own adventure

To say the movie operates in the realm of circular logic is to assume that the film has a logic and a basic understanding of shapes, as they relate to logic. More tangled relationships. Have I made you want to see this movie yet? If the answer is yes, then chances are you will not only enjoy it, but you will get something out of it. If the answer is no, then this simply may not be your cup of tea. But either way, what this movie should not be confused with or mischaracterized as is a bad movie. It is not. It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his second film on my top ten list. I didn’t plan it, and in many ways, it doesn’t seem like he’s on here twice because he so completely disappears into his roles. PSH (as his friends call him) certainly has his actor’s tricks, and he loves to play “Intense…Intense-ER!!” sometimes, but he is also one of the best working actors today. Here, he is a man who creates a play about his own life and eventually casts actors to play himself, and then actors to play actors playing himself. The film has been in rehearsal for over 20 years. The warehouse in which this production is to take place acquires a second warehouse inside the first warehouse in order to play the first warehouse in the play. There is a house which is perpetually on fire. It is not explained. Things get weirder, too, but we’ll leave that for you to see for yourself. This film is not simply absurd, it is absurdist. It is a film that would make Samuel Becket scratch his head. But at the same time, I disagree with the notion that the movie is toying with us, that it is  looking down on us or mocking us. It doesn’t trick us or deceive us or manipulate us. Seeing the movie again, I felt even more that there is a sincerity amid the confusion; that Kaufman is attempting to make an honest movie about all the dishonesties we engage in on a daily basis. You are not a bad person if you do not like the movie. But neither should you blame the movie if you should find out it doesn’t like you either.


The Aesthetics of Dreams 2

The second dream is simple, with a simple plot, simple payoff. I am in jail, on death row, waiting to be executed. And in the meantime, I am running on the prison track. In fact, hundreds of people are, all of us on death row. But you wouldn’t know it. We’re chatty as we run, and one older female inmate is trying to hook me up with a younger one. I politely decline. Round and round we go, and on the side of the track is a single file line – people whose names have been called, and they are being executed today (they’re calling hundreds of names each hour, everyone must go). So round and round we go. At one point, because of how crowded the track was, I ran into a beam, a bit of subconscious slapstick one may conclude. Jump cut to me running again. Then, it dawns on me I am going to die. So I stop running, write a letter to the judge, or whoever is in charge begging for a stay, because I have no idea why I’m in jail, I must be innocent. Then, my name is called. I get in line, but I keep trying to make people go in front of me. Finally, I sneak off to the guard’s computer and somehow check the status of my mail. It wasn’t written in time, so it wasn’t sent yet. A JAILER comes and asks what I’m doing, takes me back to the line. I try to explain, to no avail. Back in line, my mind starts racing with all the things I wanted to do with my life. Missed opportunity after missed opportunity. That’s where it ended. With utter dread at a wasted life and impending death.


Briefly: My dream contained the following buzz-words – Jail/Prison, Jailer, Running (in circles), Death

JAIL – Death row = death of unhappy relationship OR, PRISON – Loss of Freedom, Punishment, etc.

JAILER – Treachery at the hands of a woman (wtf?)

RUNNING – Going in circles – pretty obvious – trying to escape a situation move forward, and no progress is ever made. Right back where you started.

DEATH – My own death – fear of being taken advantage of or manipulated


Charlie Kaufman was recently on Fresh Air, with Terry Gross. I had no knowledge of this before I decided to write about dreams these last couple of days. I knew he had been on the show, but I’d missed it, so I had to download it, which I did and I listened to it while stretching for my run. Running, which appeared in my dream, which Charlie Kaufman talked about before I went running today. Which I also did in my dream. In the interest of full disclosure, Charlie Kaufman was not in either dream I had, nor has he ever entered any of my dreams. I do not know why he hasn’t, and if you want to know I can only refer you to the team of Dream Producers somewhere in my subconscious mind. They would know better than me.

Kaufman: He’s written films like: “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” This month his first film as writer/director comes out, called “Synechdoche, New York.” It is an absurdist drama about a theatrical artist so very fearful of death that his life and work become about its avoidance. He is always and only looking back. The movie goes in circles, a lot of circles within circles within circles. He spoke of it as a dream. He clarified that the movie is NOT one of those, “It was all a dream!” movies, but it often FEELS like a dream and is structured as a dream. And then he talked a lot about dreams. His dreams also have a narrative (is this common with writers?) and he explained he constantly dreams of being stuck in an old, broken-down elevator, about to snap. He explained his fascination with the way stories are told with dreams. “They’re so structured that I keep the ending from myself until I get there, and I don’t know how I do that, but…sometimes there’s a surprise ending, and it makes sense. But I made it up! So therefore, how do I lead myself to that without telling myself what the ending is?… I wake up often from dreams feeling so emotionally affected. Um, Devastated. And I can’t shake it from an entire day…” 

How DO we keep the endings from ourselves? Am I making it up as I go along? If so, I’m a damn good writer, because the payoff is almost always satisfying. At least interesting. Or, does my mind have it all written out? Is the mind busy at work those first few hours of sleep, trying to make the 4:17am deadline when my dream is scheduled to start? And what about when there is a double feature? And if this is the case, if the mind is capable of creating a structure and events and dialogue and characters that are not only actual, but MEANINGFUL, and if the mind can keep all of this information from me for as long as it wants, then it begs the question: What else is my mind keeping from me? And/Or, are there external forces helping to create the dreams? What is going on in those uncharted depths of the mind? Is there a mechanism in there at work without my knowledge? Does my brain have a mind of its own? And if so, who’s in charge?

It Has Come to This

February 2019
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