Over the next few days, we’ll be turning the spotlight over to the authors featured in the Arts in Entertainment series. This is your chance to meet them and get a sense of exactly why you’ll want to read their books. As of right now we are just over 25% funding, but we still have a ways to go! Every dollar helps make a great series a reality, so please support the Kickstarter today to help it come to life. Here’s Zachary Kaplan to tell you about his book on Synecdoche, New York, and to give you a taste of just how great a series this will be.
What made you decide to pitch to this project?
When I signed on to the project, I had no idea the path my life would take. Synecdoche, New York had always meant a lot to me. I’d always been a diehard fan of Charlie Kaufman’s work; his sense of humor and unique style seemed to meld a bleak, anxiety-prone outlook with a sense of pushing through the morass, of achieving a true, genuine happiness. When I saw Synecdoche for the first time, I bawled through most of it — in part because I had recently lost my grandfather. When I saw it a second time, I was struck by how my opinion of the film’s message differed so greatly from my friend’s; I saw something of a cautionary tale, the idea of caring too much about what other people think dooming oneself to perish at the foot of an impossible ideal, so stop caring and live for yourself. She saw a damning condemnation of others, an upsetting rejection of the outside world. This dichotomy intrigued me, and these thoughts in general inspired me to take the opportunity to write at length about what had become one of my favorite films.
Then, after signing up for the project, my mother committed suicide. And every idea in the film, every message, every scene became a statement about life, death and grief; specifically, my life, her death and the grief of myself and my family. The film became a statement about what suicide is, what life is, what death is, and everything in it seemed to eerily apply to my situation. I recognized that I was not thinking completely rationally — that’s what grief is, after all. But I felt intimately connected to the film through this process.
I hope that by channeling this grief through the film, I will be able to understand my mother and her suicide, to help myself regain the optimism that this terrible event shattered, and to speak to others who have gone through situations like mine in a way that could help them understand their own grief and pain. And perhaps I’d help prevent a few suicides in doing so, in being brutally honest about this process and how I reached this point. It’s this brutality that attracted me to the movie — the raw, unfiltered look at what life is, what death is, and why we go on. It’s this brutality that once gave me a renewed optimism just as it shook my friend in a negative way. And it’s this brutality that I must channel if I hope to continue as a part of this world and get stronger as I go. Because in the wake of a suicide, you see the rawness of the world as it really is. And there is only one way forward: through it.
How quickly did you decide on your subject?
It took me perhaps a week of mulling over different movies and such that I could write about before I decided on Synecdoche. I have no idea how I picked such an apt film for my situation, but there it is.
What was it about your subject that stood out to you?
If I could see a film and feel uplifted while my friend could see the same film and feel incredibly depressed, I knew that there was something complex there worth exploring. It touched me in ways that I had yet to fully understand, and it resonated with my worldview in a way that few things do.
What do you hope a reader will take away from your book?
I hope that when someone reads my book, they will be able to view the world in a way that helps them get meaning out of it in the way that I get meaning out of it. As an atheist, I must turn to the stark reality of life itself to find the optimism needed to get me through the dark times. And with times as dark as they are now, I feel like I can fully pull out the meaning behind my perspective a way that I never could before. This film resonates so deeply with this perspective that I can think of no greater tool to guide me through the darkness. If you could call my struggle a test of my faith, then I’d see this film as my Bible.
I know there are others out there like me. I know that there are others whose worldviews, atheistic or otherwise, can work as a double-edged sword the way that mine does. I know that there are others who see the world as I do, and who will hopefully gain perspective that I have gained and will continue to gain as I complete this work. I hope that I come out on the other end a more complete person, and that others can use my book as a guide to help themselves do so as well. A tome for those who can only see the world in a stark, bleak light, and how that light doesn’t have to be so stark or bleak. And I hope very much that it helps those who are considering suicide. I hope that it helps them realize that there is a point to staying here with us, in the living world. I hope to show my readers the beauty in the sadness. I hope to save lives.
Your book in seven words:
Excavating grief in search of life’s essence.