March 14, 2009
Review - " Synecdoche, New York " - (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
Somewhere in Berlin, his daughter Olive is growing up under the questionable guidance of Adele's friend, Maria. He's
helplessly driving his marriage to actress Claire into the ground. Sammy Barnathan, the actor Caden has hired to play
himself within the play, is a bit too perfect for the part, and is making it difficult for Caden to revive his relationship with the
alluringly candid Hazel. Meanwhile, his therapist, Madeline Gravis, is better at plugging her best-seller than she is at
counseling him. His is second daughter, Ariel, is disabled. And a mysterious condition is systematically shutting down each of
his autonomic functions, one by one. As the years rapidly pass, Caden buries himself deeper into his masterpiece.
Populating the cast and crew with doppelgangers, he steadily blurs the line between the world of the play and that of his own
deteriorating reality. As he pushes the limits of his relationships, both personally and professionally, a change in creative
direction arrives in Millicent Weems (Diane Wiest), a celebrated theater actress who may offer Caden the break he needs.
There's nothing easy about 'Synecdoche', it is a difficult film to comprehend, to wrap your mind around. It's the sprawling
story of one man's life, a tragic life. Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a harrowing performance as his character attempts to
create a play of realism and honesty. And even as he dives head first into his work, his own life is in a perpetual state of
free fall. A wife who leaves him, a daughter out of his life, relationships that crash and burn. His play, inside a warehouse
where he has reconstructed New York City for people to live our their ordinary lives, becomes a fruitless and maddening
descent into unhappiness and destruction. A basic summary goes something like this: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a
morose, depressed theatre director who's convinced that fatal diseases are lurking around every blood vessel, and who
decides to stage a monstrous, ambitious theatrical work that will leave him remembered after he dies. Soon, the work as he's
staging it becomes confused with the life he's living, so that he finds himself directing a version of himself through a story
that seems to be made up as it moves along.
Synecdoche considers the evolution of living –
man's importance (or lack of) in his immediate
universe. It touches on every facet of human
existence. There are so many different levels,
layered complexity in the film and ambiguousness
and confusion it causes over the plot or the ending.
There is the ability to see something new with each
viewing and the presence of a backstory which aids
in the understanding of the main plot.
Death is explored as a central theme in this movie,
the idea that we're all going to die one day. The
specter of death overshadows all else and serves as
a catalyst for the artist's grand opus. It also allows
him to muse on the meaning of life and the
challenges of art. That everyone is the main
character of their own story. Shakespeare's notion
of the world as stage is more appropriate here than ever. If life is a play, and the World is our stage, We only have this one
shot, no second chances. We try to control our direction, cast roles that need to be filled. In the end, what does it matter?
Will the world miss us when we're gone? Life is what you make of it. "Synecdoche, New York" dares to search for meaning in
questions to which there are no answers. The conclusions it draws are that we are all alone in this big universe, life doesn't
necessarily have any meaning other than what one brings to it.
Writer, Director, Producer Charlie Kaufman, from whose mind sprung such grand illusions as "Eternal Sunshine of the
Spotless Mind", "Adaption", and "Being John Malkovich", comes this surrealist cinematic masterpiece. I was really
overwhelmed by this experience. You can feel the issues that Kaufman wanted to address brimming over. Illness, death,
transience, love, relationships, passion, devotion, art, theatre, identity, hope, so many topics dealt with in a painfully sincere
way. You both laugh and get emotionally affected all the time along with being confused by the twists of the plot and the
grotesqueness of the imagery. You get many 'this is so true' moments that you completely identify with and then you
suddenly get struck by a completely surreal scene. Kaufman's use of time in this film are utterly brilliant. Time passes faster
and faster as the movie progresses and this ties in with life so perfectly.
There are so many unanswered questions that could easily play out both ways. Did Caden really commit suicide instead of
being saved. This is suggested a couple times and could be an explanation of the entire surreal feeling of this film. Is this
really Ellen's story and not Caden's and he is just playing the part of Ellen in the play within a play? This has also been
suggested a couple times as a possibility. We are never really sure and I think this is the power of the Synecdoche.
Everyone will take away somethign different from this film. Everyone will choose their own interpretation of the events
presented to us. As in life, the possibilities are nearly limitless.
The entire cast give inspired performances. Philip Seymore Hoffman is perhaps the greatest actor alive today. He gives us a
superbly masterful performance as Caden. It would be easy to make comparisons between his characters of Caden Cotard
and Jon Savage in last years "The Savages". Hoffman IS this movie. He is in almost every scene. Hoffman is tremendous in a
very tough acting role. Caden is already a morose fellow when the film begins, and as he rehearses his opus, life continues
to seep out of him. There is a skill to playing this downtrodden type of part, and Hoffman makes the despair look effortless.
Tom Noonan plays Sammy, the actor who plays Caden in the play. He is brilliant and mimics Hoffman's Caden to a tee.
Sammy seems to overtake Caden's life and becomes more like Caden than Caden himself could ever be. Lines of fantasy
and reality blur as Sammy makes creative choices about the character of Caden that Caden disagrees with. Then, as if that
weren't enough, the role mutates to the point where actress Millicent Weems (Dianne Wiest) takes over the role. She
becomes Caden's doppelganger, taking control of Caden's life, when he is unable to cope. Even if you never figure out what
is going on, watching Hoffman is worth the time invested.
Emily Watson plays an actress that is portraying Hazel's character. she and Samantha Morton (Hazel) are like the same
person,the same actress. The characters are supposed to be extremely different. But at first, the overwhelming similarities
are often confounding. Emily Watson takes over Hazel's character and acts in ways Hazel would never act, just as Sammy
and Millicent overstepped their bounds with the Caden character.
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Synecdoche, New York
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Philip Seymore Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Tom Noonan, Michelle
Williams, Smantha Morton, Hope Davis, Emily Watson, Diane Weist, Jennifer
syn·ec·do·che (si-nek'-de-ke) noun
A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole (as hand for sailor), the
whole for a part (as the law for police officer), the specific for the general (as
cutthroat for assassin), the general for the specific (as thief for pickpocket), or
the material for the thing from which it is made (as steel for sword).
Theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymore Hoffman) is mounting a new
play. Fresh off of a successful production of Death of a Salesman, he has
traded in the suburban blue-hairs and regional theater of Schenectady for the
cultured audiences and bright footlights of Broadway. Worried about the
transience of his life, he leaves his home behind. Armed with a MacArthur grant
and determined to create a piece of brutal realism and honesty, something into
which he can put his whole self, he gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse
in Manhattan's theater district. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane,
instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a small mockup of the city
outside. As the city inside the warehouse grows, Caden's own life veers wildly
off the tracks. The shadow of his ex-wife Adele, a celebrated painter who left
him years ago for Germany's art scene, sneers at him from every corner.
Synecdoche is utterly brilliant! Masterpiece is the
kind of title happily bestowed upon rare
experiences such as this.
"Synecdoche, New York" will not likely find a big
audience, as most people will either not want to
work at understanding it or won't like what it has to
say. But if you're willing to go into it with an open
mind, you might just find yourself amazed.
This movie is not for your average viewer. It is
thought provoking, emotional, and incredibly
difficult to comprehend. I can really only
recommend this one to serious movie aficionados.