Synecdoche, New York (2008)
I know how to do it now. There are nearly thirteen million people in the world. None of those people is an extra. They’re all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due.
— Caden Cotard
Charlie Kaufman’s indecipherable directional debut, Synecdoche, New York has been discussed, examined and picked apart since it came out in 2008. I knew the bare essentials about the plot before watching one frame of the movie. I wanted to love this movie. I wanted to like the movie. I wanted to movie to end.
Kaufman made a pessimistic view of life in general. It’s like that old adage, we die a little bit everyday. Caden Olstad (Philip Seymour Hoffman) exemplifies that perfectly as he obsesses over his own mortality read papers about Harold Pinter dying and bird flu. Certain moments of his life are spent worrying that he has a new disease.
His self-fulfilling prophecy comes true when he was shaving, the sink explodes with a piece hits him on the forehand. Caden goes to get stitches where he learns that he has a “condition” that none of the doctors who say any further. It was never explained what condition he had. Caden thinks he’s dying.
He is dealing with the crumbling marriage to Adele (Catherine Keener). Their marriage counselor, Madeleine Gravis (Hope Davis) is not making things any better with his cold disposition. Caden tries to put all of himself in his production of Death of a Salesman casting younger actors, Tom and Claire as Willy and Linda Loman (Daniel London, Michelle Williams). It gets great reviews, but Adele couldn’t care less.
Adele has an opportunity to show her macroscopic work in Berlin. She goes with her friend, Maria (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her daughter, Olive (Sadie Goldstein). Before leaving, Adele asks Caden what will be his contribution to the world would be when he dies. Caden becomes obsessed to find his masterpiece when he gets a MacArthur grant. Did I mention there are huge gaps in time here? From 2005 to 2009 when he gets the grant.
Caden spends all of his time with his play about death doing a Mike Leigh style where the actors interact and Caden takes whatever their reactions into the script. People come in and out of his life like his assistant, Hazel (Samantha Morton) or striking up a relationship with his lead actress, Claire. People die all around him and he is wondering why they have to go before he does. He is too busy preparing to die already. As the year go on, Caden becomes trapped in creating his own world that he can’t see what’s in front of him.
I believe that Kaufman over shot his debut a little bit. He does some far out concepts that somehow if it’s a doorway going into the mind of John Malkovich, a woman finding a savage man raised by apes, retelling the double life of a game show host who allegedly moonlighted as a hitman, actually creating a fictional twin brother, and a machine that would erase your bad memories away. What’s up with the burning house? Caden watching Olive dance? That woman that mistakes him for Ellen? The ending was a head scratcher.
I didn’t hate this movie. I thought it was too ambitious for its own good.
Posted on July 3, 2010, in 2008 and tagged Catherine Keener, Charlie Kaufman, Daniel London, Dianne Wiest, Emily Watson, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robert Seay, Samantha Morton, Synecdoche New York, Tom Noonan. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.