Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York is as complex and difficult a film as you're likely to come across. It's divided critics and audiences alike into two distinct camps, the first laying claim that it's an excessively arty, pretentious and plodding piece, and the second who will find it deeply meaningful and thought provoking. Modern film making rarely swerves this close to introspection and many will find it far too uncomfortable for their liking. It should be said that Synecdoche is an uncomfortable film. It's a dissertation on life, death, aging, love, vulnerability, family, passion and understanding – all things that don't have pat answers or easily definable parameters.

It's nearly impossible to describe the film in any meaningful way. The main character, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a neurotic theatre director who over 40 years experiences a series of failed relationships while struggling with an odd assortment of both real and imagined physical and emotional ailments. A financial grant offers him an opportunity to attempt the creation of a great work centered on life, truth and meaning. The work consumes him and I took the second half of the film to be an extension of this ever-expanding creation. Time is compressed in unique and surreal ways masking and distorting the linear throughout Synecdoche and making it difficult to unravel the real from the imagined.

To me, Synecdoche felt closest in spirit to David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, a similarly structured and layered film. It's far less flashy than Lynch's work but it makes the same demands of its audience, something that is truly rare in modern escapist filmmaking. The “film-as-entertainment” crowd won't know what to do with this one because it's a film that can't be experienced passively. This is simply not a mainstream movie even though it stars a series of well-known actors and played theatrically in relatively wide release.

I'm guessing that fans of the film were willing to give Kaufman and his troupe of actors a wide enough berth to explore the human condition using a variety of philosophical and story telling techniques. A singular theme running throughout relates to the Cotard Syndrome, a rare neuropsychiatric disorder in which a person holds the delusional belief that he or she is dead, or does not exist. There's enough black humour in Kaufman's writing to name his lead character after the disorder but this fact sheds some light on his intent. It's entirely possible that Hoffman's Caden Cotard is reliving (or reimagining) his life in some distant and disconnected way. The layers and complexity of the film will require multiple viewings to decipher but I wonder whether there's enough meat on its bones to draw people back to the film for a second pass.

Synecdoche, New York is unique and challenging but to be honest, it's also a little exasperating. As a result, I'm hesitant about how and who you might recommend it to. I think people are going to have to come to this one on their own. I'm going to reread Dropkick's review now.



the coelacanth said...

the reason i have yet to comment is because i have yet to watch. tonight or tomorrow, though. patience, sporgatozoa...

La Sporgenza said...

What if Jules' dad takes it? Then what? When? How long do I have to wait then, huh? It could be weeks.

the coelacanth said...

relax, i've already got it.

Dropkick said...

when i get some free time i'd love to go through this one again.
get lost in it like i did.
When i first went to see it, i went with two other friends and as it started we were all having a good time, we sprawled out on our chairs talking to one another.
By the end our bodies had curled up into little balls, and didn't look at one another or make direct contact. After it finished we walked in silence for awhile in the summer night.
Quite similar to the night i had when i saw Inland Empire.
These films are my cup of tea...

and no lie the password to post this comment is "gamen"
is in you two are gamen

the coelacanth said...

you ever click on the wheelchair logo beside the password screen and listen to the time-travelling stephen hawking blurting out of your speakers? effin' hilarious!

Dropkick said...

no i never did click on the blue wheel chair guy, thanks for pointing that out.
wow, isn't this handi

actually clicking that makes it sound like your computer is putting a curse on you