The duo that made that movie (as well as "Being John Malkovich", also critically acclaimed), Charlie Kaufman (writer) and Spike Jonze (director), are two halves of a perfectly flawed being. But left each to their own devices they are so broken that they cannot make a film that comes even close.
In 2008/2009 each made movies alone that would have benefited from the other.
Jonze made “Where the Wild things are” - one of the most terrifying films ever made. It somehow encapsulates everything that is frightening about dealing with others while trying to live on this planet. It is all about perceived fear: and how we either live in fear of another, based on perceived danger, or unknown possible danger, or bluffing ourselves into a position of power by getting others to fear us. It’s about how precarious this system based on fear is, as the tables can turn at any moment - and we may then be in real peril. It captures the menacing feeling of anxiety in a primal way - based on imminent bodily harm. There is no intellectual counterpart to talk anyone down in the story. The characters are monster/children functioning on only rudimentary decision making skills - basing choices on temperature, hunger and physical safety. The fact that it is presented as a children’s story only makes me more uncomfortable when I watch it.
At the same time Kaufman made “Synecdoche, NY” - a sprawling, neurotic epic that explores the feeling many intellectuals have of not actually being here - a constant questioning of existence, and purpose. Time slips, health is subjective, things get very very large and very very small. Lives swap and get confused and there is always this persistent feeling of having missed something - lost something - forgotten to remember something. It is the opposite of Jonze’s work - all ego and no id. It is navel gazing on the grandest scale. In fact the movie turns out to be a parody of the exact idea it’s exploring; “Can you make a piece of art that addresses the enormity of life on Earth entirely?” No. I kind of love/ hate the movie (and although I have watched it a hundred times I would never recommend it to anyone because they might hate me for subjecting them to it). It is retardedly long, insanely complex (the character name puns and obscure psychological references are quietly input at every turn). It’s one big inside joke for Kaufman. But I fantasize about the film it could have been if Jonze could have been there to poke some fun - to interject perspective while Kaufman spun down the rabbit hole. Although the ideas are supposed to explore “the big picture” - the meaning of life, the whole picture is exactly what’s missing, depicting a boring, depressive, myopic view of a tiny world.
I also imagine a different version of Wild Things, with Kaufman there to inject nutty sidebars - snippets of humanity to help make the anxiety and fear easier to sit through, like we all like to do to get through day to day life. No one, even a prisoner, can live in total fear for their physical safety every moment. All humans need a reprieve inside their own imagination from their circumstance, no matter how unstable. Because the film is presented as a kid’s story, based on a 10 sentence picture book - it doesn’t feel compelled to explain anything about where we are or how we got here. Kaufman would have dug and exposed the character’s souls, keeping them from being walking, toothy stuffed animals (including the kid).
I know what people see as genius in Jonze is his ability to elicit instinctual emotion (That Ikea lamp commercial!). I don’t, personally, find unchecked emotional manipulation to be that interesting. It can be exhausting. Emotion must be tempered with intellect to create drama or comedy.
Conversely Kaufman’s movie suffers from lack of the ability to admit that sometimes you need to let stuff go. Thinking hard and deep and long inside your own head, without outside interference, is a great ride until you’ve forgotten to pull up. It’s why we need other people around.
While thinking about all of this I came across a YMS 4 part unfinished review of "Synecdoche, NY" that was very interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjqYpsuBrPU.