So once again we have survived.

Synechdoche, New York

tn_synechdocheSYNECHDOCHE, NEW YORK is the most complex and convoluted movie that worked that I’ve seen in a long time. I loved it and you might too. But there’s also a good chance you’re not on its wavelength, and in that case it will be torture, like me watching WAKING LIFE.

P.S. Hoffman plays Caden, a guy who directs plays. He’s fat, unhappy and uninteresting and his wife (Catherine Keener) is obviously miserable. The opening is so mundane it’s almost hard to translate as a movie: he has trouble getting out of bed, reads the newspaper, mumbles to his wife that Harold Pinter died, they have sort of a conversation but aren’t listening to each other. It’s kind of nice that it begins so uncinematically mired in normal life, because as it goes along it becomes more and more fantastical.

mp_synechdocheEventually he gets a MacArthur grant (man, I gotta get me one of those), which he uses to fund a giant “play” – a recreation of New York where “no one is an extra.” He spends his life preparing this play, recreating his life. The play and the life quickly become confused. The guy playing him falls in love with his old flame instead of the actress playing his old flame, he gets jealous and dates the actress, but keeps talking to her about her character, which means he’s talking to her about the other woman. That kind of stuff. His second wife is in the play, at one point playing herself, in a fake apartment with her daughter, Caden directing her as she tells her daughter daddy can’t play because he’s too wrapped up in his work, and nobody knows if it’s the play or reality or both.

Charlie Kaufman is known for pulling off impossible sounding movie ideas like this, but for his directorial debut he throws in more. When Caden’s auditioning an actor to play himself he finds Sammy, who explains that he has never acted before but is perfect for the role because he’s been following him around spying on him for 20 years. When his assistant Hazel is looking for a house she buys one even though it’s on fire – it stays that way throughout her life. She bought it as-is, I guess. When his wife takes their daughter away to Germany he only finds out about her by reading her diaries, which we hear in an increasingly older and more German-accented voiceover. One of Caden’s many diseases causes his tear ducts not to work, so in one equally heartbreaking and hilarious moment he gets sad and puts artificial tears in his eyes to cry. It’s just great concept after great concept.

It’s kind of the anti-SOUTHLAND TALES. Both feel like 3 journals worth of ideas crammed into one movie, but with this one, for me anyway, they all seemed to fit together properly into a nightmare portrait of what it feels like to be miserable. The world of SOUTHLAND TALES felt like post 9-11 America to me but it seemed like the plot meant nothing and the characters were talking gibberish just to be weird. Somehow this is more focused.

But believe me, it’s challenging. I don’t mean that in a pretentious way, it’s just true. It required effort on my part to keep up, especially toward the end. It definitely would make more sense after watching it a couple times. How else can you fully wrap your mind around Diane Weist as the actress playing a cleaning lady based on a painting by Caden’s ex-wife but who volunteers to take over playing him within the play and then from within the play begins to give him directions for how to act out his real life? I mean, it’s complicated.

I should also point out that the movie is sad, sometimes so sad it’s funny. That’s a rare type of funny so I appreciate it. I don’t know, maybe it’s best I didn’t see this in a theater because I couldn’t stop laughing during the scene where he gets a late night call that his father has died and then reiterates the call to his wife. There’s no mercy, no comfort, no “he died peacefully in his sleep,” just an endless list of miserable circumstances including “they said it was the longest, saddest death bed speech they ever heard.”

The great irony is that his work is so self-indulgent but it’s not clear when he lives his actual life. He’s always sick and in constant fear of dying. He’s crushed by the deaths of his parents, but we’ve never seen them so they must not be that important to him on a day-to-day basis. He obsesses over his first wife who is absent for most of the movie except in notes (usually not intended for him). He does try to find his daughter but never gets to talk to her until she’s on her deathbed, where she gets him to confess to something he never did, then refuses to forgive him for it. In between miseries he spends his time trying to document that misery in his play.

But it’s not like a Lars Von Trier picture or something. It’s bleak as hell but there are plenty of laughs and constant inventiveness. Voiceovers of notes include coughing and typos. He’s haunted by images of himself in cartoons, movie posters, pharmaceutical ads. He hangs out with Sammy, the actors who plays him in the play, so Sammy-as-Caden hangs out with another actor playing Caden. It’s gonna be too much for some people but if you like this stuff and you’re in the mood for a feast, get ready. There’s really no other movie like this one. These days you see a few movies that seem like they’re working from “Charlie Kaufman” type premises. STRANGER THAN FICTION and the new COLD SOULS come to mind. But I can’t imagine anybody being able to copy this one. Nobody else could think of this shit.

If you read all the movie websights like I do you might remember a while back there was a rumor that Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman were working on a horror movie. Well, this is what that was. Kaufman was writing about what he considers scary, which I guess includes the mysterious deterioration of the body, the abandonment of your family and the temptation to bury your life in self-absorbed artistic statements about your life. I guess I’d rather watch TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE on Halloween but this is a good one too.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, August 29th, 2009 at 3:48 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

50 Responses to “Synechdoche, New York”

  1. I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. I don’t always need to be challenged by a film but it can be refreshing when one does just that. Repeat viewing movie if there ever was one.

  2. Oddly enough, my friend who loves Southland Tales hated this one, even though he fell asleep halfway through. The part where he meets his dying daughter was probably the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. Made no better by the fact that he was laughing at this part.

  3. My favorite Kaufman has to be Eternal Sunshine. That was just the perfect combination of crazy premise, off the wall execution, with real soul and heart anchoring the whole thing.

  4. It was between this and Redbelt for my favorite movie of 2008. They each scratch a different itch, so it’s an easy tie.
    I could write a novel about this movie, but I’ll spare y’all the space. My favorite thing in the whole movie was the scene where Caden looks at his assistant, who had not visibly aged for 20 years, and notices that she got old. It didn’t seem jarring or gimmicky, it just happens like it does real life when you notice the same thing happening to your friends.
    I also loved the payoff with Tom Noonan because I was wondering what the fuck the Tooth Fairy was doing lurking around in the background of the shots until he’s introduced. Why the hell was he following him? Who cares? When a movie can pull stuff like that off there is nothing better.
    And man, Diane fucking Weist. Everyone brought their a-game to this movie, but she really killed it. I can’t think of another multiple Oscar winner who gets less respect. The lady stays under the radar only to pop up once in awhile to crank one out of the park like this. Then she goes back to her cave to practice her Flying Mantis Acting Technique. Yes I suppose I do have a total crush on Dian Weist. What?

  5. Ah cool, now Charlie Kaufman will come post here.

    Or at least Donald.

  6. I saw this movie twice on opening weekend because it feels like it demands repeat viewings. And my own review ended up being so long and rambling and ridiculous. There is so much going on in this thing, it is a minor miracle that it all works so well (I think it works well anyway). And the movie is both hilarious and heartbreaking, pretty much depending on my own state of mind when watching it. Reminds me of About Schmidt in that way, being depressed by it the first time I saw it and finding it hysterical the second time I saw it.

  7. That felt like a pretty good review. I saw this film when it had it’s theatrical release here in Oz and I really wasn’t sure how to articulate my thoughts on it. I’m not sure I loved it but I loved what it did. It’s not an easy film, and really demands that you pay attention to it, but there were times when I was getting kind of bored or frustrated with it. But there was so much happening that that didn’t last. I think it has one of the best endings of recent memory, like the last 20 mins or so. I can’t really remember, it was like in October or November last year, but that suggestion that the world is falling apart around him and he’s just totally oblivious to it, I thought was really cool.

  8. Vern did you read that EPIC interview with Kaufman Moriarty put up a couple weeks before he split? I’d heard that Kaufman based the awkwardness of his characters in himself, but Gee. Zuss. The guy seems embarassed to be talking about the movie he just spent years of his life putting together.

  9. This movie is a self-indulgent mess. I didn’t think it was possible for me to dislike a P.S. Hoffman performance, but this film is so tiring and convoluted that I had turn it off after about an hour and a half. This movie’s bizarreness borders on contempt: I dare you not to like me, because I’m complex and postmodern, and if you say your don’t like or don’t get me it’s because you are stupid and have lowbrow taste. You put some good actors into a really strange movie by a guy with a reputation for making offbeat movies, and it’s almost like it’s bulletproof. Incoherent? It’s meant to be. Confusing? It’s all a metaphor. Metaphor for what? If you don’t get it, then I’m not going to tell you. Yeah, well bite me.

  10. caruso_stalker217

    August 29th, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    I dug this movie, even if the second half becomes a bit of a chore because of all the complicated weirdness.

  11. This movie was terrifying. I watched it and, for the first time since I was 12 and caught A Clockwork Orange on IFC in the middle of the night, I felt like I was too young to be seeing this. It was traumatic, painful, and soul crushing to watch.

    it was easily one of the best movies I have ever seen…but I don’t know that I could ever watch it again. It was like I was seeing in black and white for about 72 hours after I saw it.

  12. Love Kaufman, HATED this movie. It felt weird, like watching DIARY OF THE DEAD. I was trying to like it, but I found it nearly unwatchable. The bullshit criticisms people make about Romero were completely present in DIARY OF THE DEAD, and any reason people have to dislike Kaufman films was amplified in this one. I know there are about a million things I missed or didn’t get, but it got to a point were I just didn’t care about any of it.

  13. You know what was funny, Charlie Kaufman won an Independent Spirit Award for best screenplay or something for this, and they kept pronouncing “Synechdoche” different or struggling with it every time it came up. When he accepted the award the first thing he said was something like, “I guess it *was* a terrible title, they told me it was but I didn’t believe them.”

    I think he knows the movie is not for most people and has a sense of humor about it, you don’t have to feel insulted if you don’t like it. Nobody is accusing you of anything.

  14. By the way, I should also mention that I was about the only guy I know who loved HUMAN NATURE from day 1. You can check my review. I embarrassed myself by laughing so hard and most of the theater was silent. Later I bought the DVD and when I watched it again it seemed more sad than funny. For some reason I have a special appreciation for Kaufman’s hilarious tragedies.

  15. When I first saw this, I thought that he had made a great film, but came close to smothering it with too many good ideas, particularly in the last forty-five minutes, which seemed to stretch on for ages.

    But in the time it took me to walk from my cinema seat to the exit, I started remembering all these bits I’d loved and how they fitted into each other in ways I’d barely noticed. Looking forward to watching it again.

  16. I love this film. It’s one of those films I wish I could show to everybody I know and have them love it, too. Though most would probably react like Skani. It’s a challenging film, but in a very good way.

  17. Patrick, I haven’t seen this movie yet, but I know that feeling. Unfortunately, usually when I love a movie that much, I’m usually afraid to show it to people. I want to keep it all to myself, because I know that my love for it is not necessarily based on its inherent quality, but on the way it perfectly fits my sensibility. What others consider flaws I consider charming quirks. For instance, I loved Inglourious Basterds a lot–possibly my favorite movie of the year–but I’ve avoided discussing it because I just want it to stay at that place of pure, unconditional love without having a bunch of holes poked in it by people who weren’t necessarily on its wavelength. (Other recent examples of this phenomenon: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Redbelt, Speed Racer, Taken, Shoot Em Up, the Cranks) I’m not knocking the people who didn’t like it at all. It’s not that they “just didn’t get it.” I recognize that none of these personal favorites of mine are unassailable masterpieces. They have obvious flaws that make them easy to attack, and since my love for them is not critical but instinctual, I have no desire to defend them. I just want to love them in my little vacuum without the world raining on my parade.

  18. All right, fair enough gang. Sorry for being defensive. Liked Adaptation, which was also self-indulgent and trippy, but this one was just too much for me. And I really wanted to like it, is the thing.

  19. Why is it so difficult for people to admit that they “don’t get” something? Majestyk, you mentioned Redbelt which I think is a great example of a movie you either “get” or you don’t. I’ve show a few people this movie, some don’t understand what the big deal is (hence they don’t “get it”) and some, like my brother, are balling their eyes out when the old guy hands him the redbelt.

    Another example would be something like Inland Empire. You hear certain people mention something like “I get it, it’s just… (stupid, presumptuous, boring, etc.) it then becomes obvious to me that they don’t “get it”. It’s not a big deal either, Inland Empire (Hell a lot of Lynch’s movies for that matter) is a tough egg to crack but don’t treat it like it’s Meet The Spartans just because you didn’t catch what was going on.

    Heck, I didn’t get Halloween up until a few months ago and I can say that I’m glad I kept trying to figure out the brilliance of it. I could have just as easily said, “There’s nothing to “get” it’s just a weak effort” and I’m sure I may have said something similar but if I did, it was a weak argument from someone who didn’t understand or “get” what the movie had to offer.

  20. One Guy From Andromeda

    August 30th, 2009 at 10:49 am

    What works in this movie which rarely gets pulled off in my opinion is that to make you feel the character’s frustration it frustrates you. I can hardly watch Punch Drunk Love for example, while liking it in a way. Being put into the shoes of this guy, the constant barrage of people and sounds, it’s just overwhelming. Had the same feeling with Adaptation.
    In Synecdoche, New York Kaufman makes it work. A great movie.

  21. I’m gonna rent this out of the redbox today! Sounds like a movie to watch when you’re already bummed and I’m bummed today!!

  22. hamslime: “Heck, I didn’t get Halloween up until a few months ago and I can say that I’m glad I kept trying to figure out the brilliance of it.”

    The movie or the holiday?

  23. With the issue of “getting” something, I think it’s because there’s no real concrete definition of what people mean when they say they did or didn’t “get it”. Some people mean “I didn’t understand it” some people mean “it didn’t work for me/couldn’t get on the same wavelength”. Because of the first I think a lot of people don’t like to say it because they think people will assume they’re dumb and didn’t understand the film etc.

    I’m not a big fan of the phrase though, i think it implies some odd things, as if the only aim to liking a film or not is down to “getting/understanding” it. Or as if there’s only one meaning to all films and you either get that meaning or don’t, when films aren’t like that at all.

  24. For me “get” means like/follow the plot. I can “get” something in terms of following the plot but still think that plot is stupid, unoriginal, whatever. With this movie, I don’t “get” what’s going on, and I don’t enjoy watching it. Enjoy doesn’t have to mean light fun. I can really enjoy a movie that challenges, scares, or whatever. This Synechdoche didn’t make me happy, it didn’t make me think, challenge my beliefs, stir my emotions, make me look at things in a new way. Part of “getting” something is being moved by it, too. This movie doesn’t move me, it just bores and annoys me. Speaking of Redbelt. That was a good one. I “get” it. The lead performance is great. That’s real charisma, when you don’t have to be flashy or goofy or gimmicky. The guy oozes substance. Less is more. It’s a simple film, not an epic. It’s a small film and a simple story about integrity. The lead guy, Chloe whatever, he delivers the goods in an understated performance. I don’t think has to have one meaning, but it would be nice if it has at least one meaning as opposed to no meaning or just being a complete train wreck of inkblots.

  25. Yeah, I think it’s a troublesome way to approach a film. I think a lot of times claiming that people don’t “get” a movie is just an easy way to avoid debate. It’s kind of saying that as long as you “get” it, you’ll like it, which is not always the case. I “get” Funny Games, which is exactly why I fucking despise it. I understand it, and I hate what it’s saying. Also, plenty of people “get” that Shoot Em Up is supposed to be so over the top that it’s funny, but they still don’t like it. It’s not like the fact that it’s a parody is lost on them. They just don’t think it’s funny.

    I think it’s important for reasonable motherfuckers such as ourselves to remember that people like or don’t like movies based on a number of different factors, including but not limited to prior experience, personal taste, and the viewing experience itself. I think it’s reductive to try to lump people together into those who “get it” and those who don’t. It doesn’t take into account the strange, unpredictable alchemy of elements that can affect someone’s reaction to a film.

    Not that I’m accusing anyone here of doing that. That’s some IMDB shit.

  26. Right, I mean, I respect that people can like Synechdoche or whatever, and I’m not condemning that. It just seemed to me like this movie is a big mess of a vanity project and that it has postmodern hipster highbrow immunity from criticism for some people. It feels like this guy Kaufmann could make a terrible, incoherent movie and it wouldn’t matter because that’s his style, that’s what he does, he has a different lens, it’s a metaphor, or whatever. Is just making your feel frustrated and yucky a cinematic accomplishment? If so, then Jason Takes Manhatten and Bridget Jones II are art. But I guess if a person straight up enjoys this movie with no pretension or smugness, then God bless them. That’s fine.

  27. But isn’t it possible to understand what an artist is going for and trying to achieve with a film, but still not like it? I mean, I get that David Lynch is telling stories in the langauge of dreams, but I still think that results in self-indulgent nonsense that wastes solid narratives and characters on his meditations of reality. I ‘get’ Southland Tales, and what Richard Kelly was trying to accomplish, that movie is still a piece of shit. So is Domino. They make it very clear why the style is the way it is, but that movie can still go fuck itself.

  28. Yeah, what he said.

  29. I haven’t seen this movie yet but i’m pretty proud of being able to pronounce the title. I love the pun

  30. Chopper Sullivan

    August 30th, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Yeah, I remember not liking DONNIE DARKO, and a buddy of mine went into a long explanation of what everything meant. I respect that he loved it and thought it had a lot to say, but even after “getting” the movie on his terms I still didn’t like it. It’s not as if hearing somebody’s theory of how everything ties together is going to suddenly make me like a movie that I found tedious. I do believe there are a lot of little details in Synecdoche that I missed, but the film didn’t grab me in a way that makes me want to try and piece it together.

    Not that I’m saying a movie has to have a perfect coherent narrative to be good. I enjoyed MULLHOLLAND DRIVE quite a bit.

  31. Bingo, homey. That’s what I mean by “get it.” A movie has to elicit and sustain enough interest to make me want to do the work of following the plot, particularly when it’s a complicated, surreal plot. Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine were able to do that. Meet me halfway, movie! Your talking to a guy who likes Hoffman enough that I defended MI:3 to a group of angry AICN talkbackers.

  32. You can “get” a movie and not like it, but I believe too many people really don’t. They get offended that something went over their head so the have to trash it. I’m talking more about something like the guy that throws a book across the room because he can’t read. Not the guy who found 11th grade poetry trite.

    Then again the guy who finds 11th grade poetry trite doesn’t “get it” because he’s not looking at it in the same frame of mind as the 11th grader who wrote it.

    You can still not like a bad movie, I just think there’s far to many critics trashing something because the don’t “get it”. (The Thing, Rocky IV, Yellowbeard) That’s fine. It’s their loss, not mine but it’s still annoying to read.

    *I should also add that the “critics” in question are usually IMDB and Talkback assholes. I’m also still butthurt about Leonard Maltin’s take on the original Gremlins. I’ll work on that.*

  33. -I emailed vern about this personally

    Well according to Joe Eszterhas all critics are just failed or wannabe writers. All of them.

    Afteral vern is writing a novel… Thus he’s gaining his way up to be a bitter failed writer.

    All of us puny insects in these talkbacks are just bitter wannabe writers.

    So there you go from someone who’s in the business.

  34. Leonard Maltin deserves to be killed by gremlins for what he wrote about the first one. Now if only Joe Dante would make a sequel, and then get Maltin to play himself for the death scene. But that could never happen. Wait a minute…

  35. This movie made perfect sense to me the first time I saw it. When my wife expressed confusion about what was going on, I said, “He died halfway through the movie.” As I recall, I even had a specific scene in mind where he dies. The rest of the movie is him clinging to life in those seconds while he dies. It’s his mind analyzing his own life, trying to figure out what it all meant.

    But, then, I am the only person I know of who got that interpretation from the movie, so I might in fact be completely full of shit and that’s not what it’s about at all.

    But it worked for me.

  36. So glad you were able to write something up about this, Vern. I’ve only seen the film once, and though there were a lot of parts I liked, by the end I just felt incredibly drained. I was hoping that there was some sort of “key” that would explain everything, but if it’s gotta be a Lynchian dreamscape, well, I can live with that.

    That said, I think SYNECDOCHE could’ve been a masterpiece if Kaufman played it just a little more straight.

  37. It is flawed and self-indulgent, but then it’s a movie about a flawed life and an over-indulgent, pretentious work of art. Not a classic perhaps, but SYNECHDOCHE, NEW YORK had some of the strangest, most haunting images I’ve seen at the cinema in a long time. PS Hoffman watching his naked, tattooed daughter dance in that box kept me up like no other film since I first saw THE SHINING (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is also an interesting comparison). Where Kubrick is an excessively cold and detached filmmaker, though, Kaufman is maybe too inward and self-reflective for his own good, but it’s still an utterly unique vision.

  38. Just watched this. Mostly liked it. I feel like I was with the movie for most of it, but then Caden started living life in the life of the cleaning lady who we never saw but probably looked like Dianne Wiest I guess, although maybe Wiest was actually really the cleaning lady who took up a career in acting and wound up in this weird loop. I think the part where my mind just completely broke was when he starts talking to the actress that played the mom in the dream, and everyone’s dead and I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be real, and then I realized that throughout the whole last walk he was still in character as the cleaning lady and this was a recreation of her life, not his, so now the question is how does Wiest go about recreating Caden’s final moment as him recreating the cleaning lady’s final moment within the context of some mass suicide/genocide/gas leak thing and now my head hurts.

  39. I watched this yesterday. I really liked it. I can’t pretend to have completely understood it (on an intellectual level). But emotionally it resonated with me.

    When I was studying one of my officemates worked on his thesis about Plato for like 7 years. His general argument was that Plato was widely misunderstood, and basically that Plato was a non-direct communicator, who thought it was wrong to tell you what he thought, and instead attempted to demonstrate via analogy and suggestion what he wanted you to understand. I’m not sure my office mate was successful in this, but I think that this is the sort of thing Charlie Kauffman was doing with this film. I don’t think he primarily wants you to work out all the tangles in the plot (which isn’t to say this isn’t possible). Rather, he wants you to understand the themes he is working with.

    In a sense the 2 films this felt most akin with to me were Wings of Desire and The Thin Red Line. For me those were both films about showing rather than telling, were the plot was just a mechanism to illuminate the themes, rather than an end in itself.

    Emotionally, I’m not sure if I could watch this again. It was excellent, but upset me quite a bit, and while I think it would stand up for repeated viewing, I don’t know that I would.

  40. I have to see this again, and probably again after that. And I understand why some people might hate it, or be bored. Personally, I don’t have enough time to talk about how beautiful I thought this movie was. For me, it seemed like more than a film. It was art, seriously, and heartwrenching, and so incredibly hard to watch, but impossible to stop watching. I talked about it for over an hour after I saw it, and I’m definitely going to watch it again. I think this review really captures what was great about it.

  41. Saw this for the first time last night. I know it was sad (I felt miserable
    watching it) but it was also incrediby cruel. And the kid who played little Olive was incredible. A lot of ideas that I think probably passed me by, but cumulatively very powerful and anything but trite.

    Unlike Vern, I didn’t laugh once but took it all very seriously. My frineds think I’m a little bit bizarre but
    I’m glad I don’t see the world in this way.

  42. I watched it for the second time recently, and it wasn’t nearly as fun after I had replayed all the gags in my head for a couple times. In fact it was quite tedious: who cares that there’s a warehouse within a warehouse within a warehouse, how banal right? But of course that’s the whole point, the metaphor is so tidy and all-inclusive that whatever extent the movie fixates on it at the expense of dropping great lines like “a Chimera, a mythical beast of penis and vagina, eternally fused, two pairs of eyes that look only at each other, and lips, ever touching, and one voice that whispers to itself” also works in its favor and drives home the darkness of the abyss.

    So, pain in the ass second viewing, but I maintain my admiration for the film. But mainly I bring it up because everybody talks about how confusing it gets towards the end…it was much clearer this time around, and not least of which because I watched PRIMER last night. Now I honestly had NO fucking clue what was happening in that one, and even after I had pieced a bit of it together from wikis and reviews and a fucking diagram, I still have to say it strikes me as a kinda petulant flick.

    http://www.freeweb.hu/neuwanstein/primer_timeline.html

  43. *replayed the gags for a couple years

  44. Renfield — I sort of agree that part of the joy of the film is watching it grow crazier and more convoluted, and that once you feel pretty solid that you get it and know what’s happening it gets less fun. On the other hand, I think it also means the film gets way darker and sadder as you get less distracted by the complexity of the metaphor and hone in on the crushing despair at the film’s center. It’s more nightmare than anything else, and the complexity of the plot actually softens it the first viewing.

    PRIMER is a petulant little bastard of a film, but I think its fun as hell. It’s interesting and likeable enough that I find its coquettishness charming rather than irritating.

  45. I love PRIMER to death and I really hope that Shane Carruth makes another movie someday, but I do think there’s a sense in which some of it’s greatness is accidental. (Only some, though. I still think it’s remarkably assured and well crafted for a micro budget effort from a first timer). Based on the commentary & interviews with Carruth, I don’t think he realizes how hard it is to figure out on the first, or even multiple viewings.

    Like you guys feel about SYNECHDOCHE, part of the fun for me of PRIMER is that you can get lost in the plot, wracking your brain trying to figure it out. The narrative confusions opens up what feels like, upon first viewing, endless possibilities/questions: which Abe and Aaron are we seeing right now? How many times have they been through this event? Is the film even sequential, or is Carruth boldly cutting together scenes from different timelines?

    Then, hearing Carruth talk about it and seeing that awesome timeline that renfield linked to, you realize that there’s actually a solid explanation for everything and not as many tantalizing mysteries as it once seemed. Which, on the one hand, still leaves me with a lot of admiration for Carruth’s chess-master-like, 10-moves-deep realization of a crazy sci-fi plot, but on the other hand it steals some of the film’s sense of infinite mystery. It’s like learning how a magician does his magic trick.

    Still love the movie, though.

  46. “On the other hand, I think it also means the film gets way darker and sadder as you get less distracted by the complexity of the metaphor and hone in on the crushing despair at the film’s center.”

    -Yeah, this was exactly my reaction. I would even take it a step further and say that the complexity itself becomes another deflating element. He’s searching (not to oversimplify) for meaning in his life through his work, and even though he looks deeper and deeper he can’t seem to find it. And to some extent all he had to do was forget about his sociopathic ex-wife Maxine (er, Adele) and realize what a treasure he had in Hazel and life would perhaps seemed less horrifying…I thought that was an unbelievably touching sentiment, and the fact that Kaufman allows them to FINALLY unite was a very sweet and generous gesture in a film not quite characterized by its generosity towards its characters.

    And not to mince words, I still have NO idea what happened in Primer, and can’t make heads or tails of that timeline I posted. I’m sort of hinting that somebody should explain it to me, but I guess that’s an obnoxious thing to ask of y’all.

  47. Looks deeper, as in “is it in the second warehouse? Well maybe if there’s a warehouse inside of that I’ll get closer to Truth/Meaning. No? Well maybe a third one will do the trick….FUCK!”

  48. I don’t remember being confused by Primer. It made sense to me…

    But then, I just spent the last week writing a treatment for a scifi film about time travel and I think it’s free of logical inconsistencies. I’m probably wrong, however.

  49. This is gonna be my Halloween movie this year.

    I’ve been scared to rewatch it for a long time. And I don’t mean that metaphorically; I’m literally *scared* of this movie. But, since I don’t think I have any old hallows eve parties to go to, and the date will be my no-longer-an-anniversary with The Clash of ex-girlfriends (the only one that matters), I think it might be perfect timing.

  50. Did I mention that I watched this again and ended up liking it a lot more the second time and now am looking at how much I trashed it after my first viewing. That was a very hard year for me. Anyway, so much for first impressions. Fuckin Skani always flappin his gums don’t know shit.

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