REVIEW: Synecdoche, NY (Dir. Charlie Kaufman)

The movie came to a close and I turn to my girlfriend. She turns to me and says, rather bluntly, “well, that was a disappointment” [Ed.’s note: HIGH FIVE, LAUREN].

Having heard in advance that Sam and Ashley did not like the film [Ed.’s note: but do very much like Charlie Kaufman], I’m momentarily stunned; ten-thousand thoughts per second all converge on one point: Holy shit; I might be the only person I know who is going to love this movie. I wait 15 minutes before telling her this.

Synecdoche, NY is, in my humble opinion [Ed.’s note: and Ebert’s], a masterpiece [Ed.’s note: but Alejandro really really loves Science of Sleep]. So three out of the four people mentioned so far in this review didn’t like it, but that doesn’t make it any less of a thorough, complex story that will leave you thinking… if you let it. Charlie Kaufman, the newspaper-salesman-turned-film-scribe behind all your favourite movies, including Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, makes his directorial debut [Ed.’s note: when he should have stuck to just writing them] with a film about trying to leave your mark on the world.

A theatre director (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is afraid of death. In fact, he is so afraid of death that it affects every aspect of his life, most importantly it drives his fear of being forgotten. As the story progresses, he is given the opportunity to create something important, and as a result spends his life creating a living play. I’m re-reading that sentence now, and this description is both poor and largely inaccurate. But the truth is that you can’t really sum up this plot the old fashioned way. Rather, let’s think of this in terms of theme.

Kaufman explores themes that he has delved into through each of the films he has written. “Having a better life” begins to explain what he’s doing, but then you have to ask, “A better life than what? Than whom? For what purpose?” The idea of being so afraid to live your own life — because you might fuck it up, because someone might do it better, because you don’t know the path to the greatest happiness — is what motivates Hoffman’s character to create entire worlds.

What makes this film great is that unlike Kaufman’s other films [Ed.’s note: where outside directors can hone in his scope by cutting the fat], he doesn’t use any of the exits he creates for himself along the way [Ed.’s note: because now he can be overindulgent sans overlord]. Kaufman explores this theme through to the end [Ed.’s note: which makes it trip and draaaag]. There are several opportunities for Hoffman’s character to quit in his quest for his own magnum opus, but at the core we realize that he will never be truly satisfied [Ed.’s note: much like Charlie Kaufman, which is the real brilliance of this movie].

And there’s a moral in that.

In a cinematic landscape where most movies you hear about are about explosions and teenagers falling in love with vampires [Ed.’s note: Synecdoche, NY needed more explosions and teenagers falling in love with vampires], what other reason do you need to name a movie as worthwhile?

[Ed.’s note: this movie would have been great if someone else had directed it]

Posted on November 17, 2008 by | Film, Hits & Misses | 18 Comments »| Tags: ,

18 Responses »

  1. Hi Alex. I haven’t checked this website in over a month, but am pleasantly surprised to find that you liked Synecdoche. I haven’t really found anyone who’s had such a fair review of it so far.
    I entered this movie not even having seen the trailer, so I really didn’t have any expectations other than that it was a Kaufman movie. I found I enjoyed watching the story turn in on itself, progressively swallowing the audience’s expectations: a few people actually walked out when this started to happen. The way Caden breaks the fourth wall, only revealing four more walls I think accurately reflects the frustration I felt watching it. But I never lost interest, and because, as you said, Kaufman was free to see things through to the end, it felt like there was a logic to his world; an extended version of Bjork’s “Bachelorette” video.
    You know, The Beatles’ White Album got mixed reviews when it was released for similar reasons: too long, too fragmented, overindulgent, lacking focus, WTF is Revolution 9… Not that Synecdoche is Kaufman’s White Album, but maybe it’s just misunderstood right now.

    p.s. What did you make of Caden’s gift for his daughter? The pink “NOSE” box? Seemed like some sort of inside joke.

    p.p.s. You should tell this Ed. guy to quit interrupting you when you write. [Ed.’s note: yessir]

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