In Praise of Feelbad Art

Anyone who cites a film’s being “depressing” as a fatal criticism of said film immediately conveys to me that we will never, in a million years, be simpatico.  Jon Canter has a piece in The Guardian on the topic and he profiles Charlie Kaufman’s latest masterpiece:

Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is a feelbad classic. I’ve seen it twice and urge you to do the same. Both times it gave me a mid-life crisis. But that’s a recommendation. I’m 56. A mid-life crisis means I’ll live to 112. It’s a masterpiece of anti-formulaic, genre-busting, unmarketable feelbad art, one that deserves the most off-putting advertising strapline to convey its uncompromising, uningratiating vision. I offer up, in all humility: “Delay your suicide two hours to see this film.”

If you haven’t seen it, look away now, as I’m about to divulge the plot. Here goes: a guy dies. That’s it. And, as the film makes clear, that’s not just the story of the guy in the film, it’s the story of everyone. Everyone dies. That’s the only story there is. Thank you, Charlie Kaufman.

You may have heard that it’s relentlessly bleak. This is not true. Feelbad doesn’t preclude warmth or a sly and delicate humour. (That’s why the ladies love Leonard Cohen.)

A lover of both feelbad art and Charlie Kaufman films myself, I’m particularly pleased to see Synecdoche, New York selected as a sumptuous choice of paradigm example. When I finished it my first thought was, “I think I hated it but I can’t wait to watch it nine more times.”  It lingered with me for days and I look forward eagerly to finally getting to the second viewing.

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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