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Synecdoche New YorkReview - Synecdoche New York
DVD
by Charlie Kaufman (Director)
Sony Pictures, 2008
Review by Christian Perring
Aug 25th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 35)

Kaufman is best known for writing Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  This is a long film at over 2 hours both written and directed by Kaufman and while the first 40 minutes are relatively conventional, the rest of the film is bizarre and surreal.  Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a theatre director.  The film starts with his marriage crumbling and Cotard scared about his health, but his work as a director being very successful.  When his wife leaves him and he begins a new artistic project using money from his Macarthur "genius" grant, time starts to go faster, and Cotard ages.  His new play has a massive cast and is never seen by an audience; it goes on for years and seems totally improvised.  He gets an actor to play him, and other actors to play some people close to him.  He becomes old.  He gets an actor to play the actor playing him.  There are many desultory conversations with people he can't relate to. 

So there is plenty in the movie to try the patience; it feels absurdly self-indulgent and artificial.  Yet despite this, there's an ambition to the plot and an emotional resonance that make the film satisfying -- it is not just clever in the way that Adaptation was.  Rather it is filled with a profound sadness.  The strong performances by Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and most of the rest of the cast, along with a well composed soundtrack, give the film greater depth.  Viewing the film several times makes the pretentious aspects less annoying and the themes of self-representation and self-reflection begin to make a little more sense.  It's never quite clear whether there is some interpretation available that explains what is going on in a logical way, but Kaufman's strong and distinctive writing makes the coherence of the story less important.  The highly eccentric characterization and speech is interesting in itself.  There's something here about building a life and creating one's own reality, and even if ultimately Kaufman's film doesn't seem to have anything clear to say on the topic, it's enjoyable to see him throw a few ideas around. 

There are several DVD extras, which give quite a lot of background to the film, and one is a fawning exchange between movie bloggers about how great and misunderstood this film it, which is tiresome.  Nevertheless, the extras are informative.

 

© 2009 Christian Perring                  

   

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.


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