Theater director Caden Cotard is mounting a new play. Fresh off of a successful production of Death of a Salesman, he has traded in the suburban blue-hairs and regional theater of Schenectady for the cultured audiences and bright footlights of Broadway. Armed with a MacArthur grant and determined to create a piece of brutal realism and honesty, something into which he can put his whole self, he gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse in Manhattan's theater district. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane, instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a small mock-up of the city outside. As the city inside the warehouse grows, Caden's own life veers wildly off the tracks. The shadow of his ex-wife Adele, a celebrated painter who left him years ago for Germany's art scene, sneers at him from every corner. Somewhere in Berlin, his daughter Olive is growing up under the questionable guidance of Adele's friend, Maria. He's helplessly driving his marriage to actress ... Written by
Announcer on the radio at the very beginning says it's 22 September. The newspaper is dated in October, it's Christmas when the sinks smashes his forehead, New Year's on the ride home and March in the ophthalmologist's office. Kaufman afforded his film a dreamlike quality by playing with the representation of time throughout. See more »
One of the Most Deeply Affecting Movies I've Seen in a Long Time
It's virtually impossible to summarize my feelings on "Synecdoche, New York." This astonishing brain teaser from the mind of Charlie Kaufman affected me deeply, probably more than any film I've yet seen this year. I can't say it's necessarily enjoyable, because it's full of uncomfortable, brave truths about what it means to be human, and it goes places most movies don't dare to. But watching it is a bracing experience, and it's encouraging to know that there are still filmmakers willing to use film as a means of challenging their audiences and picking at scabs that most people would prefer to remain solidly in place.
I can't begin to tell you what "Synecdoche, New York" means, and it wouldn't matter anyway, because I think it will mean different things to different people. A basic summary goes something like this: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a morose, depressed theatre director who's convinced that fatal diseases are lurking around every blood vessel, and who decides to stage a monstrous, ambitious theatrical work that will leave him remembered after he dies. Soon, the work as he's staging it becomes confused with the life he's living, so that he finds himself directing a version of himself through a story that seems to be made up as it moves along.
If this sounds like an act of mental masturbation by a pretentious intellectual with too much time on his hands, rest assured: "Synecdoche, New York" is not one of THOSE films. I didn't become impatient with Kaufman or his characters, like I have with some of his previous projects. In fact, this film made me uneasy because of how much of it I DID relate to. The conclusions it draws are that we are all alone in this big universe, life doesn't necessarily have any meaning other than what one brings to it, and there is not a higher power who is going to make sure our passage through the world makes sense. It was a bit of a wake up call to hear these beliefs, beliefs that I happen to share, stated so boldly, for while I'm confident in what I believe, that confidence doesn't make the beliefs themselves any less scary.
But depressing and nihilistic as those beliefs might sound, the film is life affirming in its own way. It suggests that too many of us spend too much time trying to make sense of the world and not enough time living in it. We pull back in loneliness and fear when faced with things bigger than ourselves rather than turning to those who can actually help, namely the other human beings with whom we share our time on this planet.
"Synecdoche, New York" will not likely find a big audience, as most people will either not want to work at understanding it or won't like what it has to say. But if you're willing to go into it with an open mind, you might just find yourself amazed.
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