Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman)
Reviewed by: Matt Noller
The House Next Door
It doesn’t matter how big a Kaufman devotee you are, how many times you’ve seen Being John Malkovich or Adaptation or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It doesn’t matter what you’ve read or heard about Synecdoche, New York, his directorial debut, because nothing could possibly prepare you for the overwhelming mindfuckery on display. It is easily Kaufman’s most ambitious project, which means that it is easily one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen. The role of the artist in society; coming to terms with death, God and fate; and the importance of escaping from the trap of solipsism in order to connect with others are among the most prominent themes, but they are far from the only ones. The sheer depth and complexity of the ideas Kaufman is out to explore here is mind-boggling.
Obviously, Synecdoche, New York is not an easy film, or a clean one. The first twenty minutes or so are relatively straight-forward, all things considered, as they detail the day-to-day life of a theatre director named Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Adele (Catherine Keener). When Caden’s health begins to deteriorate in strange and grotesque ways (the possibilities of these sicknesses being all in his head or being meant as a literalization of his fear of death seem quite likely), Adele takes his daughter to Berlin for a week-long trip. They never come home, and as the film becomes increasingly focused on Caden’s mental state, things like temporal and narrative cohesion start to feel like a distant memory.
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