Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review - Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York - U.S., 2008

I’m not sure what is real in Charlie Kaufman’s well acted and visually impressive Synecdoche, New York, and perhaps it doesn’t matter in the end. What matters, I suppose, is Caden Cotard’s journey, or perhaps I should say journeys, for he seems to be on several quests, some of which include the quest for happiness, the quest for true love, the quest for a purpose in life, and the quest for a reason to be remembered. Does he find any of these things? I suppose that depends on how you interpret the film.

In the film, Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), after being abandoned by his wife (Catherine Keenar), achieves financial security through a MacArthur grant. Not having to worry about money for the rest of his life, he devotes much of his time, energy, and possibly sanity to creating a brutally honest depiction of life on a large stage somewhere in New York. Eventually the play, which starts out as an improvisation, develops into a depiction of Caden’s life, and as his own life falls apart, every breakdown and tragedy makes its way onto the stage in front of him. The play continually changes, it is always in rehearsal, and even after seventeen years, no audience has seen it. Is it all real? It’s hard to say.

On the one hand, Caden’s life is painfully real enough – two failed marriages, a daughter he cannot see, the one true love that got away, doctors and therapists that do nothing to allay his fears of dying. On the other hand, Caden has no sense of time. For example, when explaining why it’s too soon for him to begin to see someone new, he says that only one week has passed since his wife and child left for Germany. The woman he’s talking to reminds him that it’s actually been a year. In addition, there’s an odd scene in which one character buys a house that is on fire. At first, I thought this scene was a dream, but the house remains on fire throughout the film, and the fire affects several characters in important ways. Also, in the film, New York – or perhaps the New York that has been built for the play - appears to be under military siege, and there are several scenes in which an elderly woman refers to Caden as a woman. What does it all mean? I suppose the answers are out there somewhere, and perhaps the movie becomes clearer on repeated viewings. I’m just not sure that I’m interested in taking another trip into Synecdoche, New York. This is a film that some will hail as a masterpiece and others will decry as an incomprehensible piece of fluff. I’m somewhat in the middle, and it’s a rather uncomfortable place to be. (on DVD)

2 and a half stars

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