Review Rewind: ‘Synecdoche, New York’

The Movie: “Synecdoche, New York”

The Year: 2008

The People: Philip Seymour Hoffman as the neurotic and death-fearing theater director Caden; Samantha Morton as the quirky, flirtatious box office staff member Hazel; Catherine Keener as Caden’s fed-up, maritally drained wife Adele; and Charlie Kaufman as the brilliant screenwriter and director of the film.

The Non-Revealing Plot: Theater director Caden’s wife, Adele, leaves him and moves to Germany with their daughter, where she becomes a famous artist. In the midst of dealing with his wife leaving him, Caden receives a letter saying that he has been granted a MacArthur Fellowship for his rendition of the play “Death of a Salesman” (1949). He decides to use the award to make his own play, one with an autobiographical plot and a production style that blurs the lines of reality and fiction. Caden stages his new play in a massive abandoned warehouse while trying to come to terms with his loneliness, his own existence and the existence of everyone around him.  

Unofficial Genre: The movie is a drama that experiments with many ideas in its storytelling — from realism to meta-fiction to science fiction to surrealism to existentialism. Each moment is a weird, beautiful mix discerning what it means to be alive and what it means to die.

My Opinion (Emotional): The director, Charlie Kaufman, does not tell the story of his characters; he uses these characters and their stories as vessels for his thoughts on life. Kaufman wants us to feel his ideas, whether they’re stated by the characters or merely implied by their situations. He wants us to understand the great sadness that comes with being a human being and succumbing to the brutality of self-awareness. The movie also implies that self-awareness comes at a cost since it clouds our awareness of other people. The ideas here are rich and depressing. The characters are meant to represent anybody who watches this film, and I saw parts of myself and my mind in it, which was a sign that it heavily affected me.

My Opinion (Technical): The one area where the film runs into problems is the technical side of getting Kaufman’s ideas across. The movie focuses on transmitting many little messages while balancing a very loose way of telling a story. After all, there is a semblance of a plot to this film. In the last quarter of the film, it becomes very hard to keep up. I suggest going into this film not caring about plot at all, and instead merely trying to understand what Kaufman is trying to get say.

Overall Rating: I’d give this film a 9.2/10, but I fully understand why one might give this film a 0/10. It’s admittedly bizarre and confusing, but to me it’s also brilliant, thought-provoking and affecting.

If You Like This, You’ll Also Like: Once again, it’s low-hanging fruit to suggest work by the same person but my third-favorite movie of all time, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), is your best bet.