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“None of those people is an extra. They’re all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due.”
Those words were spoken by Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing the role of Caden Cotard in Synecdoche, New York. I found Synecdoche to be maddening and inaccessible but I also felt it contained insights that were worth trying to get to (I tried to do this awhile back in this video essay with Amy Nicholson).
Despite my confusion, these lines stood out as a fundamental message of the film. We experience our lives in a much different way than those around us experience them. Everyone is the main character in the story of their lives. And it can be difficult to let other people in — to acknowledge that their lives have fullness and arcs of their own. It’s difficult not because their lives are dull, but because we barely have the capacity to process our own stories. How can we be expected to understand what others are going through?
This thought came to mind while watching Alfonso Cuarón’s newest film Roma, out on Netflix today. Roma is a semiautobiographical story of Cuarón’s childhood and of his family’s live-in housekeeper, Cleo. Throughout the film, we witness Cleo’s experiences, from the mundanity of her daily tasks to her loving care of the household’s children. At the periphery, we see snippets of external events — the family she’s employed by begins to fall apart, and political unrest spills into the streets — but as with real life, these events are just tangential to the story. They aren’t the story itself.
Roma is a technical masterwork. The camera work is masterful and intricate. Its seeming passivity as it glides and pans its way through each scene seems to be the film’s way of saying “This is real. This happened. You’re just lucky to get a glimpse at it through this tiny window. ”
The movie invites us to take a look at this person who would be a side character in another film and to experience her life in all its fullness. The result is a wonderful celebration of how we shape the lives of those around us, and how they shape us too.
A few more thoughts for the week:
- I try as much as I can not to be a snob about the “theatrical experience,” but for Roma, I’ll make an exception. This a film that demands to be seen on a big screen with an excellent sound system. I was able to watch it at the Seattle Cinerama, one of the best theaters in Washington state. Every frame was so packed full of detail that I was grateful to have the larger image to try to take it all in. Additionally, the sound mix was so good that at various times during the film, I thought someone was disrespecting the film and talking out loud in the theater; turns out it was just the extreme detail in the Dolby Atmos.
- You can listen to my full podcast review of Roma here.
- Check out my review of the Mission: Impossible – Fallout 4K Blu-ray. A great disc that tries its hardest to convince you Tom Cruise almost died making the film.
- I’m compiling all my favorite instant pot recipes into a constantly-updating list. Take a look here.
- Reply All has an incredible episode about Foxconn’s new Wisconsin factory. Well worth a listen, as it is a tragic summation of the state of American politics and its economy.
- For The New Yorker, Ceridwen Dovey explores whether reading can make you happier.
- Gillian Genser is a sculptor whose art has resulted in devastating health problems. She reflects on her life’s work for Toronto Life.
- T. M. Landry College Preparatory School was famous for having students that became viral video stars as they got news of acceptance into ivy league schools. But the truth behind the school has a much more upsetting side to it, according to a New York Times investigation.