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Synecdoche, New York
Part for the Whole and Whole for the Part
by Martin Malloy on Nov 07, 2008
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I should preface this by saying that this is probably one of the most difficult reviews I have ever written. Synecdoche, New York warrants multiple viewings. Itís abstract, itís non-linear, itís messy and itís downright confusing. And thatís the point. That may sound like a reason to run as far and as fast as you can from this film, but itís not. This film isnít perfect and yet itís a masterpiece in spite of its glaring faults.
It may make more sense if you know that this is a Charlie Kaufman film. Kaufman is probably the only contemporary screenwriter that is billed above his filmsí directors. Thereís good reason for this. He is one of the most original minds in films weíve ever seen, and probably will see for decades. His first film, Being John Malkovich, was actually written just so he could gain more TV work (thatís right Charlie Kaufman began in TV, hard to believe).
In fact, the film gained a lot of attention although it was considered impossible to make. That is until Spike Jonze read it and, well, the rest is history. But there is one thing that has always been constant in Kaufmanís films -- heís enamored with the human mind. While Being John Malkovich was a meditation on the mind vs. the body, Adaptation gave us a glimpse into the mind of the creator and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a romantic mystery literally set in the mind, Synecdoche, New York attempts to encompass the actual life of the mind. Kaufmanís film is life and everything that life comprises. Itís THE most ambitious topic a filmmaker could take on. Only Kaufman would be so daring.
In this script, Kaufman unleashes Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a playwright who decides to stage a play of his life as it happens. Soon, his play blossoms into a warehouse-sized version of New York City, thus the title of Synecdoche, a literary term meaning a part standing in for the whole or vice versa. As Caden stages this play, his life begins falling apart, both figuratively and literally. First, his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) takes their daughter and vanishes to Germany. He subsequently embarks on two failed relationships with Hazel (Samantha Morton), whose house is perpetually on fire and Claire (Michelle Williams), one of his regular actresses.
Sammy, the actor he hires to play himself, is too good at playing Caden and soon falls in love with Hazel, while Caden romances Tammy (Emily Watson) the actress portraying Hazel. All the while, Caden is suffering from some sort of debilitating disease that is causing his autonomic functions to shut down, one by one. As he delves deeper and deeper into his masterpiece, lines are blurred between dreams, consciousness, unconsciousness and reality. While this may remind you of Kaufmanís previous works, Synecdoche does not provide the audience with a ďsafety valveĒ -- the ďa Ėha!Ē moment of understanding when you realize what it all means. In this movie, Kaufman understands that life does not provide a ďsafety valve.Ē Itís messy, confusing, frustrating and thrilling. As is Synecdoche, New York.
Sure, the film begins with a standard and linear plot, but by the end it is disconnected and jumps around as if time doesnít exist. It may be safe to say that we are viewing the world as Caden sees it. But, maybe not. Kaufman forces us to project our own state of reality onto the screen in order to make sense of it all. Donít be fooled into thinking you need to separate the fake from the real. That isnít the point. But, maybe it is. Thatís just life -- we never know why something is. It just is.
by Martin Malloy on Nov 07, 2008