I should probably start by saying I've only seen the movie once (so far), and it sounds like people spot new things every time they watch it, but I really don't think I liked it. This has surprised me, as I generally like Kaufman's other movies. This might say more about me than the movie, but as much as I enjoyed parts of this dark movie, overall I found it frustrating. I'm a person that likes facts, I like to be able to piece things together. I don't think you can piece this film together, but you're welcome to try.
I've read a couple of Kaufman's interviews that generally add more pieces to the puzzle, but still doesn't really get me any closer to solving it. Many people might argue that it's art, that it's meant to get you thinking, that there doesn't need to be an answer; but I think there should be a storyline, some form of internal logic that lets everything we see and hear fall into place. Perhaps there is. Perhaps I simply haven't worked it out yet. But no one else appears to have worked it out either, which either makes Kaufman a genius for creating such a complex puzzle, or it makes him crap for failing to create a movie that's capable of explaining itself.
Assuming that this isn't art for art's sake, and Kaufman isn't just your typical pretentious writer/director, there must be something to explain why we're watching all of these dark, depressing, lucid events. Perhaps we simply have to explore every little detail in order to determine the foundations of this internal logic that holds the movie together?
The problem with that is we don't really know what we should be focussing on. We don't really know if something should be interpreted literally or as a metaphor. We hear phrases like "the twins" followed by the name of three kids. We see three kids on screen, which suggests there are three, so why did she say "twins"?
We hear the therapist say "Why did you?" followed by a correction of "Why would you?". Did Caden mishear? Or was that meant to be a clue?
Your traditional romantic storyline tends to have the following predictable pattern:
- Boy meets girl
- Boy falls in love with girl
- Something happens
- Boy ends up with girl
This is all nice, simple, linear and WYSIWYG. On a bad day I'd like nothing more than curling up on the sofa with a tub of icecream, big bar of chocolate, and watching such a movie.
But sometimes you need something more thought provoking. Something that's more than simply adding numbers together to get the same consistent answer. Sometimes you want a quadratic equation, which can be solved using the quadratic formula. The quadratic formula gives us two, but not necessarily distinct, solutions, called roots, which may or may not be real. Perhaps we're left wondering whether Sam Tyler is in a coma or if he really is back in the 1970s. Perhaps one of those answers is obviously real. And just in case you hadn't worked it out, Ashes to Ashes will tell you the correct answer during the first episode.
And perhaps that's why I'm struggling to find meaning in Synecdoche. It's either a hidously complex simultaneous equation that I'm going to struggle to ever work out (if at all), or there just isn't enough information in order to work out what's really going on. I'm currently leaning towards the latter.
Some movies are meant to be thought provoking. I think this is meant to be one of them. Unfortunately, Kaufman seems to have created a movie that's too confusing to properly satisfy the viewer. Hopefully the next movie he writes will be directed by someone other than himself.