For many different reasons I've been thinking about mortality more than usual these past few weeks. Part of this arose from the unexpected recent death of a senior from law school. Part of this is from certain completely divergent career choices I stand to make which will take my life in terrifyingly different directions, the kind that prompt me to wonder if I'm living my life to the so called "fullest extent". Part of this, again, is because I occasionally feel the sense of purpose in my writing fading away, something that I am desperately trying to recapture.
At any rate, I saw this movie with my friend Tejaswi on a laptop with shared earphones in the Nalsar internet centre. As we reached its absolutely unflinching ending, we sat in silence, earphones pulled out, watching the end credits roll, not quite articulating our thoughts - not quite being able to, for a bit atleast. This here is Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut. There was a lot I expected from the man behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but absolutely nothing could have prepared me for Synecdoche, New York.
This is an astonishing movie.
If I were to attempt to convey a sense of the plot to you - well, it involves a theatre director/script-writer, Caden (a typically great Philip Seymour-Hoffman performance) setting out to make the production of his lifetime in a massive warehouse that will soon come to house increasingly elaborate stages, buildings, and fascinatingly enough, a zeppelin. The play is going to be about nothing less than life itself - Caden's life.
But wait - this is a Charlie Kaufman movie remember - so all this setup is only a stage for grander ruminations on love, loss, regret, and, yes, life. It starts off as simply a particularly clever piece of cinema, playing with your ideas of how characters like these would be expected to behave. Strange things happen, signs and portents of death begin to appear before Caden, a house remains partly on fire for 40 years, a wiry old man peeks at the camera in almost every other scene, the massive production remains audienceless. Art takes over life, life becomes art, even as our perception of reality begins to falter.
Sound pretentious, bloated, artsy, inaccessible ? Well, it could've been. But this is what the movie made me do - in the course of its 2 hour running time, it made me cycle repeatedly over the different choices I'd made in my life - the good ones, the bad ones, the ones that looked promising only to end in bitter regret - even as I went along with the exhilarating ride of trying to piece together what the different levels of meaning each scene held for Caden himself.
But finally, importantly, essentially - it made me revisit those questions about mortality. I reached no answers, of course - and how could I - but I have a deeper understanding of the questions themselves, about where they're coming from, and finally, why it is important that I constantly keep asking them. Caden himself lives a life of constant regret, of monumental sadness, driven by his art, and forgetting the very life that drives him towards this art.
Art might be immortal - we are anything but.
This movie made me yearn to live.
I can give it no higher praise.