October 27, 2008 [Synecdoche, New York]

Charlie Kaufman has long decided that speech is made up entirely of figures of speech—that is, every utterance is a parable, a story about something else. He extends this to characters and settings and plots: the tunnel that leads to Being John Malkovich, the SF machine that cleans you up and bathes you in the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—because it's all in your mind, like Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind seeing assassination targets where bachelorettes used to be. Kaufman's like Michel Gondry, with whom he's worked, building dioramas of interior histories so cunning that the artifacts become the history, and history becomes the present.

And every part, every syllable, every gesture not only builds the whole but is the whole—and each little whole works like the big one: each captures a miniature moment, like the teensy-weensy artworks Caden's ex-wife makes, so small you need a jeweler's loupe to see them—and once you do, does the whole thing come clear? Is it all synecdoche? When the drowning man sinks beneath "the wave" we know what we're seeing: it's synecdoche, the "wave" just a word for the whole wide sea. But when Caden goes in a completely opposite direction from his ex-wife and designs a set for a theatrical production of his life—in essence, then, everything—it's life-sized, as is the plot: the whole of his life standing for the whole of his play, no more stynechdoche, no more single part representing it all but all of it representing It All.

This is a long and dizzying movie, funny and scary, and I had to be patient with its false starts and stops, its meanders and stutters—as I do every day in my own production, each step trying to be certain—or at least trying to move forward—while the past and all its teensy-weensy parts rise up like the shifting Dark City, elusive because, as solid as they are, they shift and change. And that may be only a figure of speech, but that's all we have, so we better keep talking.


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