The Best of the Decade: #2 02/27/2010
The first decade of our young century has come to a close. During that time the world around us has changed rapidly, and cinema has changed with it. Mainstream filmmaking continues to go down a dark path, moving ever closer to an event-style industry with no perception of "art". Meanwhile the cinema is ennobled all over the world by artists who reject or beat the studio system. As strong as ever, if you look in the right places, the art form thrives. For the next 10 days, I'll be counting down the 10 greatest films of the decade...
Synecdoche, New York
Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Sometimes a masterpiece comes along that reminds us that in art there are no limits and no rules, the only restriction being the ambition and genius of the creator. Synecdoche, New York is such a masterpiece. Charlie Kaufman is an artist who needs to create with reckless abandon, without considerations for his chosen medium’s history or traditional structure. In doing so, Kaufman makes a boundless film of remarkable purity.
Through the plight of the film’s protagonist, Kaufman expresses not just the struggle of the artist but also the struggle of life altogether. The opening scene, which features Cotard waking up and having breakfast at his home, plays as though it is one morning, but if you pay attention to the mention of dates, several days pass. Cotard loses track as the passage of time becomes increasingly bewildering, as years go by as if nothing. Such is life, Kaufman knows. Cotard builds a set of soaring ambition in which New York is replicated in a warehouse. He has entire buildings erected inside, eventually directing his own wife in a model of their apartment. Roger Ebert has observed how the way Cotard assigns his actors roles is much like how we assign all the people in our lives roles. We find what position is suitable for our friends and family, and assign it to them, dictating their place in our lives. Directing them this way and that; the selfishness of connection.
Kaufman knows the best way to find truth is through lies and appropriately crafts a film with little to no logic, with irrational happenings such as the house which is always on fire throughout the film, but never burns down. In spite of its disregard for realism, the film feels as close to life as any I’ve come across. Recording reality is of little value, but employing dream logic can be a successful way of capturing the truth of how we live.
Synecdoche, New York is one of the richest and most challenging films I’ve ever seen, let alone from the last ten years. It is darkly funny and genuinely sorrowful. The complexity ensures a new experience every time one watches it. Kaufman crafts the film in such a way so as to be interactive. It is clear that Kaufman counts on the subjectivity of the film; crafting an intellectual playground for the viewer with unpredictable results. The film is a work of profound insight and unadulterated genius. Kaufman ennobles the cinema by refusing to adhere to anything other than his own intuition and creativity and thus creates a movie that towers above nearly all others of the decade; a masterpiece that at once discovers our flaws and demonstrates our greatest capabilities.