March 14, 2015

Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman, 2008

This is one of those films that after you process, it, it changes you. You want to tell your other movie-lover friends to go see it so you can gauge their reaction. They ask you “what’s it about?”. That’s the challenging task. “Okay, so it’s about a struggling playwright played by Philip Seymour Hoffman”. They reply “That’s it? That sounds kind of boring”. Your brain rattles, trying to come up with a better way to describe the film. “Okay, so it’s about a struggling playwright who works on an ambitious project after getting substantial funding and is able to recreate a miniature New York inside a massive warehouse that he purchases”. Closer. More descriptive, but no, that’s still not it. Maybe this is just another one of those films that you say “Just go see it.”

Synecdoche is one of those films sort of difficult to really discuss upon first viewing. It almost demands rewatching. The attention to detail, the exhausting carefulness that Kaufman clearly puts into his film. It’s one of those films that after looking back on it a few days later, there’s a dream-like quality to it. There is lingering imagery. Life and death. The fear of death, the neverending clinging to one’s mortality. Hypocondria, paranoia of being ill or falling ill. Parental pressures, the fear of losing your family or struggling to live without your family by your side. Career insecurities, self-doubt on the creative level. It’s also an examination of the American marriage, or at least a focus on a fading relationship. Complacency, marital boredom. Love lost, wandering eyes, jealousy. Kaufman is a genius when it comes to taking everyday life and completely manipulating it. Sometimes he is just toying with it slightly, with a minor hallucination. At others he is bending the world in different shapes and forms. He is an artist with a lot to say, and there’s not enough room in the massive warehouse to store it all. Hoffman’s Caden character is one of the more complex characters to come out of 21st century cinema. As he seems to grow more and more disconnected from reality, his artificial world seems to grow more elaborate. There are certainly people out there who will watch a film like this and pick it apart. It’s a complicated film. At times probably over-complicated. But that’s sort of what Kaufman has done with his screenwriting, so why would he not do the same thing while sitting in the directors’ chair? Nobody but Kaufman could conceivably make a movie quite like Synecdoche. He turns parts of upstate New York and New York City into an urban mind-field. The final result is some kind of surreal hybrid of Vanilla Sky, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. And who wouldn’t want that?

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