Alan A. Stone, MD

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The Best Film of 2008? Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York

October 3rd 2009

Synecdoche, New York, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, was greeted with Best Film of the Year from critics and catcalls from moviegoers. It is a film that only someone like Psychiatric Times’ Editor in Chief, Dr Ron Pies, could fully understand (ie, a psychiatrist who knows about arcane neuroscience and literature). The problems start with the title. Most people have no idea what “synecdoche” means or how to pronounce it. Looking it up is not much help. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a figure [of speech] by which a comprehensive term is used for a less comprehensive or vice versa, as whole for part or part for whole, genus for species or species for genus, etc.” The commentary adds to the confusion: “Formerly sometimes used loosely or vaguely, and not infrequently misexplained.” No matter. Most critics did not explain it anyway, emphasizing instead its pronunciation-si-NECK-doh-kee-which sort of rhymes with Schenectady (sken-ECK-tuh-dee), where the film “seems” to be set. They outdid each other, too, in their praise of the film, while being surprisingly candid about their inability to explain it. Roger Ebert called it “Joycean,” with the richness of literature. He enthused, “It’s about you. Whoever you are,” even though he conceded that he had not fully understood it. As for the ambiguity of the title, he advised readers to “get over it.”

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