One recipe for a whole narrative is to create a world, a character and a situation, each affecting the others while containing them. It is a hard, hard thing to do cinematically, but look at what has been done here.
The world is conveyed by our character passing through it. It is a future world: many things are familiar, some have evolved. Everyone seems prosperous enough to enjoy cinematic environments. Some few technologies have advanced, but none in food, medicine, transportation, not even restaurant service — only those that pertain to the focused world, character and situation. Nothing is explained. Nothing is shown in the ordinary way; Theodore simply passes through spaces. Some of my readers will compare this to Lost in Translation in the oblique way the world is defined. But in that film, the world has agency in the story. Here it is simply a container within which things move. It is a risky thing to do.
The character is one we know. We’ve seen him/her before and we’ve lived it. But things are drawn more sharply than usual. We know, for instance, that this is a man so capable of deep love that he sells expressions of it to others to use in their supposedly barren lives. We learn early that he is emotionally damaged. Where the ‘passing through’ vocabulary really pays off for Spike is in the many flashbacks where we see him passing through the world of his estranged wife. It is softer than his strolls outside, but the same vocabulary. By this means, we get both the yearning and the shallowness of connection.
The situation we are walked through is wonderfully conceived. He makes his living by verbally pouring emotion into his computer. Soon we enter the situation with his computer doing the same to him.
The three agents in this story (world, situation, Theodore) contain, support and generate each other in a way that requires the gentle sci-fi tone here. We have no distractions. No external stories whatever. We don’t know about wars or governance for instance. We don’t even know about commerce. We do have an external viewer, a wonderfully warm but fragile Amy Adams. Gosh, she is a good actress.
All this is as near perfect a construction as I can imagine, and we enter it smoothly. The big surprise for me was how this developed. Nearly every rule in cinematic romance is broken. It does end tragically, but gently so. Our character and his observer are transformed, and so we assume is the world at large in a 2001-mapped-onto-Melancholia-epiphany sort of way.
I would like to be able to trust my life with this filmmaker, as I do a few others. I would like to treat him with the open heart that he has drawn here, diving unreservedly into an enclosing narrative. I trust his seductive strokes explicitely. I get great pleasure from the way he economically layers narrative. But he has his own needs as a human and he will disappoint me.
For instance, Jones decided not to direct the astonishingly rich Synecdoche after preparing it. Instead he made ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ Though it had some charms, I felt betrayed. But it served his personal need to work with Sendak before he died. My best loves in film are like this, where the seduction is inescapable and dangerous, but the relationship remains slippery because the artist is more human than being human requires.
Posted in 2014
Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.