I've been thinking about how much I like Charlie Kaufman's new film, Synecdoche, New York, and wanting to talk about it, but in truth it isn't easy to begin. The movie is startlingly alive and ambitious, and more than a little overwhelming. The first thing I noticed is that it takes a kind of narrative practice that's become familiar from inventive films like American Beauty or TV shows like Six Feet Under, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy or dream, but soon it's clear that there's no point in the viewer trying to keep the worlds separate; this film's more interested in the branching possibilities of narration, and of using all kinds of gestures to get at its characters' inner lives. Thus a man gets facial sores, blood in his urine, a limp, a dry mouth and eyes, just to name a few of his symptoms, all because he feels himself falling apart -- and in this movie's terms, indeed, the self can't be held together; our common lot keeps us leaking, and leaking into one another, open to interconnection and recurrence and beginning again.
But I've said all that and I haven't said anything yet. I don't know when I've seen a film so vibrating with feeling: people vibrate, weep, love each other, abandon and betray each other, get sick, die, lie, have sex, make art; nobody seems able to move without screwing somebody else up. And somehow or other, often because it's so awful or so extreme, this manages to be funny, too. Nothing here is stable, not your age or your gender, not your love or your desire or the parts you play.
Kaufman's film is finally most about what it is to be an artist, to have the will or the desire to represent your whole life, to use every element of it -- to, as the politicos say, "leave it all on the road." I think it's maybe 15 minutes too long, and goes a little conceptual at the 7/8 mark, but I don't care in the least: it's uncomfortable, unnervingly moving, maybe sublime, and makes you glad to be alive at a time when such things can be made.