Synecdoche, New York worth visiting



Another outrageous Charlie Kaufman tale

By Matt Brunson


DIRECTED BY Charlie Kaufman

STARS Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton

To attempt to encapsulate Synecdoche, New York, in a few hundreds words seems a daunting task — akin, perhaps, to building an entire gymnasium out of wet sand or watching video clips of Ann Coulter without feeling a bit of puke rising up into the mouth.

Charlie Kaufman has never felt the need to be constricted by what conventional wisdom declares are the boundaries of the motion picture form, as evidenced by his scripts for Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (for which he won an Oscar). While hardly his best film, Synecdoche, New York — which also marks his directorial debut — might perhaps be his most outrageous one yet. It feels at once personal and universal, and its idiosyncratic nature is certain to leave many moviegoers coldly indifferent in its wake. It takes the notion of life as merely one sprawling play — or, as Shakespeare put it in As You Like It, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances" — and to a fair extent literalizes it, as theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), reeling from a life full of illness and unfulfilled relationships, uses the money from a fellowship to mount a navel-gazing play that will consume him for the rest of his time on Earth. He hires actors to play himself as well as acquaintances, and he's constantly updating the material as his real existence shifts in different directions.

On paper, this all might sound gimmicky, and a stretched-out running time (just over two hours) indeed allows many of the scenes to feel like nothing more than Kaufman taking jabs at narrative conventions — in short, his unpredictability becomes predictable. But as the film enters its final chapters, Kaufman's musings on memory, identity and especially aging stir up a gathering storm of audience empathy, and as the final credits roll, we reflect not on the cleverness of Kaufman's script but, rather unexpectedly, on its emotional impact.

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