As one of the few Hollywood screenwriters of the last decade to achieve the status of auteur, Charlie Kaufman has built his artistic reputation on bizarre and baroque narratives. And yet the last line of dialogue from his Synecdoche, New York is one of aggressive, devastating, succinct finality, a solitary word and plosive that at once enacts a protagonist’s inevitable demise, announces it, and fulfills a brutal, film-long program of unsolicited ego-surrender. “Die,” says Dianne Wiest’s enigmatic Millicent Weems, the actress who switches roles with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s slowly disintegrating theater maestro Caden Cotard, the recipient and performer of this most definitive of stage directions. That Kaufman chooses such a harsh word to conclude his directorial debut is less significant than the manner in which he has chosen to communicate it. Because for someone who has also built his screenwriting reputation on literary, concept-heavy wit, Kaufman demonstrates with the execution of this single word—and all that leads up to it—a mastery of dialogue as sound, and sound as delivered through the cinema-specific device of voiceover narration. Read Michael Joshua Rowin’s entry in the Reverse Shot Sounds Off symposium.
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