In preparation for the release of Charlie Kaufman's latest movie, Anomalisa, I’ve been rewatching ALL THE FILMS (six films) written and directed by the critically acclaimed, eccentric screenwriter (and sometimes director). I saw most them in the theater as they came out, and felt okay about them—but this time, as I’m watching them, I’m noticing all this nuance I never saw before. Am I coming around to Charlie Kaufman? Am I just stoned? Of course I’m stoned. Weed is legal now.
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK
Only through writing this blog about Synecdoche, New York (2008) have I finally learned how to spell "synecdoche." When we’re complaining about Portland, we’re using a synecdoche. It's like when we say "Portland" to complain about hippies, or when we say "Bridgetown" to describe Portland. I think "Stumptown" is a metonymy? I'm sure I'm going to use these words again never.
Synecdoche began as a horror script: Spike Jonze and Kaufman brainstormed what they found to be truly terrifying in real life and came up with a story about theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), ridiculed by his more famous wife Adele (Catherine Keener), dealing with various painful and grotesque physical ailments and losing his relationship with his daughter. Jonze was supposed to direct Synecdoche but got pulled away to do Where the Wild Things Are, so Synecdoche ended up being Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut.
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, I MISS YOU SO MUCH. Earlier this year I watched The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 and I thought about how it was likely the last movie Philip Seymour Hoffman made before his death in 2014. Critics tried to gloss over that and focus on A Most Wanted Man—his last starring feature—as his last film. I'm sorry, but let's be real. It was totally Hunger Games. His last role was a character named Plutarch Heavensbee and it's embarrassing and I’m fine with that. I valued Philip Seymour Hoffman not for his nobility but for his willingness to take sloppy, earnest characters and breathe soul into them. It’s nice to revisit Synecdoche to see his face again.
Okay, I immediately regret watching this movie stoned. I feel like I’m missing a lot of important things, but I’m also unable to hold back that sinking feeling that accompanies conceptualizing the inevitable decline of existence. That’s my toast and tea when I’m not stoned. Shit!
There’s so much weird stuff happening in the background of this movie. I like to imagine that Kaufman scripts have always included details and other directors were like, "No, there’s no way I’m going to commission this wallpaper and then pay someone to paint a photorealistic body into it."
He’s dead, right? People keep saying stuff like: "Then you died." But they also tell him he abandoned his family when clearly his wife left him. The passage of time is suspicious. That also leads me to believe he’s dead.
Hazel (Samantha Morton) buys a house that is on fire and it stays on fire for the entire film. I get that it’s a metaphor. A synecdoche! It’s also totally awesome!
Samantha Morton is so beautiful. The horrors of life and existence only end up making Samantha Morton more beautiful.
There's a man following Caden. Sammy Barnathan (Tom Noonan) looks a little like Larry David, and he's been following Caden for 20 years. All those times a guy was pressed up against a building in the background? You weren't imagining it.
So many of these scenes are like anyone's worst nightmare: abandonment, death, loss, longing, the pursuit of creating the same patterns over and over, being accused of things that in fact the accuser is guilty of (so frustrating!). I love this movie but—like any horror movie—it's hard to watch alone.
When I was done watching Synecdoche, New York I was still high and I felt like shit. My notes are: "I don’t know how I’m going to write about this. I want to put down my notes and walk away." I decided to watch John Mulaney's stand up on Netflix because he and I share the same birthday and I feel that, due to our concurrent existences, his jokes hit me especially well.
As the John Mulaney special opened, I noticed its score was written by Jon Brion, who I remember from the I Heart Huckabees score. Then I remembered he scored Synecdoche, New York. He also scored Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? Jon Brion writes a mean score. Hire him for all your existential dramas.
The Watching Charlie Kaufman Movies Stoned blog series has ended. Thank you for reading. Gather up your possessions and click over to see what Eric D. Snider has to say about Anomalisa. (He liked it! I'm also pretty sure he didn't watch it stoned.)