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USA 2008
Directed by
Charlie Kaufman
124 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
4.5 stars

Synecdoche, New York

Synopsis: Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a playwright struggling with hypochondria, marital incongruity, and a burning desire to write a masterpiece. When given a ‘genius grant’ he has the seemingly infinite resources to devote a lifetime to rehearsals. Wracked by paranoia and personal crises, his progressively aggrandizing play begins to reflect all the nuances and events of his life, with actors playing himself and the people in his life. Eventually the difference between life, rehearsals and performance is almost irretrievably lost. Meanwhile Cotard’s wife Adele (Catherine Keener) is having her own artistic issues, ones which are inversely related to those of Cotard and is creating paintings that get progressively smaller until they must be viewed through a magnifying glass, before finally fleeing to Berlin with their daughter.

In his first film as a director,Charlie Kaufman is concentrating on his characters more than ever. His scripts for Being John Malkovich (1999) and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004) emphasized visual effects to externalise the psyche. But this film uses characters in the play-within-a-film to reflect and challenge their ‘real’ life counterparts. Eventually, they will begin to make different choices in their historical recreations and create entirely new realities on their massive stage that itself is recreating part of New York in an unimaginably vast playhouse. Meanwhile, the ‘real’ New York outside the playhouse into lawlessness is crumbling as decades pass.

There is a one particularly striking visual effect however. Cotard’s love interest, Hazel (Samantha Morton), chooses to move into a house that happens to be on fire and remains burning for as long as she lives there. It is the clearest example of the film’s premise that any choice made implies some subconscious acceptance of possible consequences.

"Synecdoche" essentially means to substitute a part for a whole, as in a crown for a king. But in Synecdoche, New York, the whole is is made up of 13 million parts. To try to encompass that complexity is extraordinarily ambitious and only a writer of Kaufman's calibre would attempt it. That he has directed his script himself (it is his debut as a director) makes it a double remarkable achievement.

 

 

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