Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York finally reaches UK cinemas this week. I'm really looking forward to this, though I know it will be somewhat weird and bleak. Kaufman is best known for writing the screenplays for Being John Malkovich (dir. Spike Jonze, 1999) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry, 2004). His new film marks his directorial debut as well as being his sixth feature film screenplay. I hope to cover this on Culturewatch next week, but meanwhile any Kaufman fans would be well advised to read Jeffrey Overstreet's interview with him for Image Journal. Here's an extract:
Synecdoche, New York began as an endeavor to collaborate on a horror movie with director Spike Jonze. Neither of them were interested in conventional horror stories. 'We wanted to talk about things that were scary-scary, as opposed to horror-movie scary,' he says. 'So we talked about dying, aging, time passing, relationships gone bad, regret, illness, isolation, and loneliness. . . . I wanted to make something that felt truthful to me. . . . I'm trying to put something that's sincere and honest, in a very subjective way, into the world.'
I asked him what he means by the 'truth' of a scene. How does he know when he's achieved 'honesty'?
'I think it's that I believe [the scene] . . . or I don't,' he said. 'When I'm talking about "truth", I'm talking about subjective truth. Because that's the only truth I have to offer. I don't have any larger truth. . . . I have the authority to try to present myself to the world.'
This drive to capture something honest and true in art is one of the themes most prominent in Kaufman's films. It strikes me as a profoundly spiritual line of inquiry. His films always leave me thinking about the futility of seeking salvation and consolation in a world without God. Kaufman's characters only ever look to each other for help. And they're constantly disappointed.