(From Sunday’s lunch. Where are the Coke people hiding the cameras? )
I used to know this man who’d spent hours and hours of his life planning a revolutionary new amusement park. He would tell me about his plans in vivid detail, his hands drawing the shape of genius in the air. Sometimes, in his urgency, spittle would collect in the corners of his mouth as he lectured and I would have to lean away slightly to avoid the overspray.
It’s been awhile, but I remember that the amusement park was built on a huge triangular (isosceles) mountain, but not a stationary mountain, a spinning mountain. Actually, sections of the mountain would spin, in opposite directions simultaneously, and then huge mechanical arms, which were attached to the core of the mountain, would shoot out and flail wildly, thus providing a thrilling experience for the hundreds of tiny people strapped to them. If memory serves, the people were actually strapped into little fuzzy beanbag chairs, which were, in turn, affixed with suction cups to the mechanical arms.
It was all very technical.
Sometimes he drew me diagrams with a dull pencil stub and some notebook paper, and I wish I still had one, but mostly he would have to eat them after he was done talking, because it would be disastrous if the plans fell into the wrong hands.
The best part, the climax, if you will, was when the machine guns came out of the mountain on additional octopus arms. Because everything,( people, beanbag chairs, machine guns) was spinning in different directions, there was a lot of suspense about which riders would be shot. Some would live. Some might only suffer flesh wounds. That was the beauty of this ride. Thrills and suspense. Death-defying action. It couldn’t miss.
Sadly, the amusement park mountain never got built, mostly because the CIA and the man’s mother were involved in a conspiracy to steal his ideas, and so they had him committed to a mental hospital where he spent all his time looking for bugs in the outlets in his room.
I lost track of the man after I quit the job working at the psychiatric hospital, and sometimes I‘ve wondered if he’s still there, with his pencil stub, fine-tuning the plans.
Until this weekend, when I rented a movie named Synecdoche, New York, and I realized that my old friend must be making movies now.
Have you seen this movie? Of course you haven’t, because what kind of masochist would rent this movie other than me? No one, that’s who.
It’s a Charlie Kaufman film, and it makes the spinning mountain seem like a good idea by comparison. Also the machine guns are totally cheery next to the bummer that is Synecdoche.
For example. In this movie, the main character is unhappy. I think because of all the stark, fluorescent lighting. He develops a mysterious disease. It comes and goes, but ultimately has no bearing on further events, just covers him in ugly pustules for fun. His four year old daughter is taken to Berlin by his wife, where the four year old almost immediately morphs into a fully tattooed German woman who is having a lesbian relationship with her own nanny. He learns this by reading her diary, which she left under her pillow. Back in America. It spontaneously updates. He never sees her again.
He then becomes involved with a woman who lives in a house that is on fire for forty years. She marries another man who lives in the basement (he came with the house and wears a wife-beater), and they have twins. Three. Not three sets of twins. Three twins. She dies of smoke inhalation. Naturally.
Then he marries an actress in his theater troupe and they have a daughter too, but he can never remember her name, and then he leaves his second wife to go and clean the pretend apartment of his first wife, who paints miniatures. Nude miniatures.
(If your head hurts right now, you’re getting it! Good job!)
The apartment is pretend because it’s part of a theater set. He’s decided to make a play of his life. And possible there is a play of the play of his life. There are wigs, and multiple versions of everyone, and all the dialogue happens at least twice, like Ground Hog Day only not funny, and they rehearse for a couple of decades and build a replica of New York City in a warehouse, but never perform the play for an audience. Some people die in unexplained ways. A man in an overcoat stalks him. It might be him stalking himself, but only until the suicide.
(This is where my husband sighed heavily and went to look for my son’s Halloween candy stash.)
Later he decides to play the part of the cleaning woman in the play instead of the director because of stress, and then he has a touching conversation with his/her mother, who died a long time ago. A fake priest that looks a little like David Arquette gives a speech while standing on some Astroturf. Then he dies. Not David Arquette. The main guy. Probably. The cleaning lady says so.
That’s basically it.
Be glad I just spoiled this movie for you. You could use those two hours for something more pleasant and productive, like pulling out all your own teeth with a bottle opener.
I’m sure there are those of you that think Charlie Kaufman is a genius, a profound surrealist with a potent commentary on the existential crisis we all live daily, a man willing to present the tragic absurdity of life with unflinching honesty.
You would be wrong.
Charlie Kaufman is insane, and also an intellectual masturbator.
Not that I have any strong feelings about it, but I think forcing prisoners to watch Charlie Kaufman films would be both an effective interrogation device, and a violation of the Geneva convention. His movies make popcorn stick going down.
I’m feeling a little hostile suddenly. Wow. I thought only Andy Kaufman affected me that way.
If you see this movie in the video store, feel free to fling it under the shelving unit. Go ahead and push it clear under with your toe. You’re doing everyone a favor, even Charlie, who clearly needs to be spending his time more productively, like maybe designing amusement park rides and checking his outlets for listening devices.
I’m done now, I think.
Check in next time when I discuss the perennial favorite, why Kevin Costner must be driven out of movies and forced to watch Charlie Kaufman films as punishment for every movie he’s done in which he wore pleated slacks.