Synecdoche, New York (2008) Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Is it possible that Charlie Kaufman is the most honest and personal screenwriter in cinema today? Through his scripts for Being John Malkovich, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Adaptation he has slowly been revealing himself, peeling back the skin, so what we've seen so far are different Kaufman personas. And he doesn't mind focusing on the imperfections, he just let's it all hang out! I'm a fan.
This autobiographical trend continues with his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York. It's amazing to me that this film is being billed as a comedy."Hilarious" was how Metro described it, " The Smash Hit Comedy Of The Year" proclaims the DVD box. This has to be one of the saddest, depressing, beautiful, confusing, self indulgent, cruel and very, very, very slow two hour meditations on how hard life is and then we die films I've ever had the discomfort of sitting through.
The ever reliable Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a theater director who struggles with work, the women in his life and with his health. That's a very condensed description and there is so much more (a lifetime's work perhaps?) Kaufman's usual themes of duplicity, paranoia, dream like states and a general sense of not knowing what the hell is going on are all present as literally decades roll by on the screen. You could say this film is annoying, stupid and brave and you'd be correct. You can also say that no one has ever tried anything like this before, so it's certainly original. There are many great performances, especially from the likes of Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan and Catherine Keener. Jon Brion supplies a touching score.
For me this film had many moving moments and although I was lost at times I felt I gained a greater understanding of who Charlie Kaufman is. Or did I, was it really Charlie? Once again the boundaries are beyond blurred. But was it any good I ask myself? It's certainly conflicting. And I can say Synecdoche, New York was a fascinating, ambitious film that I can see myself returning to many times. Confused? You will be.
As you may guess, we have shared a love for all things Kaufman here. He has combined intelligence, endless imagination, precise aesthetic, misery, realism, death and romance so beautifully before. His scripts and casting are always a delight. I had been looking forward to seeing Synechdoche, New York for a long time now. I don't think it even opened at cinema theaters in Helsinki at all, which made me wonder...
The film begins and immediately seems odd (as expected) but linear. It moves slowly, some characters come and then disappear completely (never to appear again, and I realize this really happens in life too). Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is miserable, left alone, ugly and ill all the time. Little by little I move from feeling sorry for him to feeling annoyed at the movie. Then for the second hour I am angry. The messy layers of varying perspectives and the basic notion that everyone is dying (within and outside the frames of this film) create a perfect sense of disconnection. Meaninglessness.
Kaufman has created an experience and a reminder in the form of a film. There is nothing gross or surprising in it. The simple banality of death is enough. I appreciated this very much, but it will be impossible to get me to watch it again.