Theater director Caden Cotard is mounting a new play. His life catering to suburban blue-hairs at the local regional theater in Schenectady, New York is looking bleak. His wife Adele has left him to pursue her painting in Berlin, taking their young daughter Olive with her. His therapist, Madeleine Gravis, is better at plugging her best-seller than she is at counseling him. A new relationship with the alluringly candid Hazel has prematurely run aground. And a mysterious condition is systematically shutting down each of his autonomic functions, one by one. Worried about the transience of his life, he leaves his home behind. He gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse in New York City, hoping to create a work of brutal honesty. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane, instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a growing mockup of the city outside. Somewhere in Berlin, his daughter is growing up under the questionable guidance of Adele’s friend, Maria. His lingering attachments to both Adele and Hazel are causing him to helplessly drive his new marriage to actress Claire into the ground. Sammy and Tammy, the actors hired to play Caden and Hazel, are making it difficult for the real Caden to revive his relationship with the real Hazel. The textured tangle of real and theatrical relationships blurs the line between the world of the play and that of Caden’s own deteriorating reality. The years rapidly fold into each other, and Caden buries himself deeper into his masterpiece. As he pushes the limits of his relationships, both personally and professionally, a change in creative direction arrives in Millicent Weems, a celebrated theater actress who may offer Caden the break he needs.
Genres: Comedy and Drama; Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.; Release Date: October 24th, 2008 (limited); MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content/nudity.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Tilda Swinton
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman
Lay and I watched this movie last weekend. We’ve both come to really respect Philip Seymour Hoffman’s work, so we were interested in this movie.There’s nothing easy about ‘Synecdoche’, it is one of the most difficult films I’ve sat through. It’s the sprawling story of the tragedy that is life of Hoffman’s character. Hoffman gives his usual understated by biting 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.
Much of the movie was difficult to figure out (for me), but the arch of the movie is one man’s search for meaning in the midst of meaninglessness? Existence is what we make of it, and it is the choices we make that shape and define who we are and the lives we lead. Every choice brings with it a million different consequences, some seen and others that go unnoticed.
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “synecdoche” as: “a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage).”
Kaufman tells us we are one in a world of many. I can’t remember the exact line, but in one funeral scene, the minister suddenly says something to the effect of, “No one is an extra…each person is a star in their own play.” We must look inward, not to others, to find peace and insight.
If life is a play, the world is our stage. We only have this one shot, no second chances. We try to control our projectories, 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, reconcile paradoxes to which there are no answers. But that doesn’t keep Kaufman from giving it his best, as tedious and heart-wrenching as it may sometimes be.
Worth watching, but be prepared to have to think. I’m still trying to decipher the meaning of the burning house.