>> Synecdoche, New York (8.5/10)

synedoche new yorkWhat does this film say to me as an overweight writer with health issues and women problems?  Nothing I didn’t already know.  And what does this film say to me about death–the larger theme at work throughout Synecdoche, New York?  Again, nothing I didn’t already know.  But this movie isn’t about me; it’s about screenwriter/director Charlie Kauffman, and he uses Synecdoche, NY to bring a nightmare to the big screen in which a writer/director (Caden Cotard, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) merges his personal life with his professional life to the point where he is no longer able to tell the difference, all the while striving to create a single honest moment in his work before he dies.

When I use the word “nightmare”, it’s the closest thing I can think of that describes the strange world of Synecdoche, NY.  There are bits of non-sequiter weirdness that don’t exactly feel like something symbolic or representative of any hidden meaning, they simply feel like part of a dream.  The line between different characters is blurred.  A self-help book writes itself as it is being read.  A house burns with flames from the moment one character considers buying it, through the course of the entire film.  Real petals fall from a flower tattoo.  An artist creates miniature portraits so small they require special lenses to see.  All of the female characters are improbably and overtly sexual.  We are watching Caden Cotard’s nightmare–a dream created by Kauffman for this character, in Kauffman’s quest to find a single honest moment in his own work as a writer, which is always about personal identity (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

For a good portion of its running time, Synecdoche, NY is weird but funny and easily accessible.  The film opens with Cotard and his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) and daughter Olive living a fairly unhappy life in New York.  Cotard is a director of bad plays, looked up to by his cast (including Michelle Williams) and fawned over by the girl that works the box office (Samantha Morton, cute as a button here).  Cotard may be a psychosomatic hypochondriac, and his overall impotence, as a husband, as a creator, and as a man lead to Adele packing up the kid and moving to Europe.  It’s around this time that Cotard wins a grant, a bottomless well of funds to stage his life’s greatest work.  He decides that this great work, this massive stage production, will be an examination of his own life.

He hires people he knows to play other people within his own life, creating situations for himself that make it impossible for him to hide anything from anyone since all of his lies and insecurities are brought to true life by the very people involved in his personal world,  It creates a confusing, but not unrewarding situation for the audience, as Kauffman smudges the line between Cotard’s life and the life of the play, which are essentially the same thing, only…not.  As Cotard keeps on living, the play keeps on going (and growing, as the play reaches a point where the actor playing Cotard must produce a play based on Cotard’s life), and the production spans decades, until it reaches its inevitavle conclusion.

This is Kauffman’s first outing as a director, and he does a fantastic job as a first-timer.  Synecdoche, NY is complicated and dark, and even with all of its puzzling dreaminess, it still feels emotionally solid and rewarding.  The reward comes in watching someone’s imagination at work, full-steam ahead, creating a dense, crazed story that feels shockingly personal.  There are moments that feel unnecessary (the Hope Davis subplot comes to mind), but these are things that might make themselves more clear in repeat viewings.  I won’t be sure until I get a chance to revisit the film.  It’s as intimate a glimpse into someone’s brain during R.E.M. sleep that you are likely to ever get, and despite the film’s lack of any real revelations on the subject of truth in art or death, it remains unforgettable.

8.5 on a 1 to 10 scale


1 Comment

  1. I think it’s odd that I think this is the best review you’ve written, yet it’s for a film that I disagree with you about.

    Actually, maybe it’s more odd that I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written, yet I had the exact opposite reaction to the film.

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