Synecdoche New York
- Director:Charlie Kaufman, Tom Noonan
- Cast:Sadie Goldstein, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener
- Release Date:May 07, 2009
- Running time:124 minutes
- Film Worth:$10.00
- FILMINK rates movies out of $20 - the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
“…a haunting meditation on ageing, the purpose of art, and the nature of mortality.”
Charlie Kaufman is an endangered species - an auteur of the written word thriving in a Hollywood system that has, at best, a passive-aggressive attitude toward its scribes. How Kaufman handles his first directorial effort offers a point of high interest and high hope for those who have followed his progression as a self-made and fiendishly clever screenwriter. Being John Malkovich was an elegantly bold contraption that startled cinemagoers, while Adaptation proved a winning slice of poststructuralist playfulness. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, when it worked, did so because of its mimetic take on the human brain - dragging the audience through all of the emotional doglegs and trap doors of the human psyche. Synecdoche, New York - far more than any of the above - is a discursive, inwardly enfolding and intellectually austere piece whose "high concept" involves the blurring of lines between art and life until they achieve co-existence. The film offers no release from this subtle gimmickry - its secrets are withheld forever, and while Kaufman's previous movies had moments of pulling back the curtain to reveal a hidden twist, there aren't any such ‘Oh, I see' moments in Synecdoche, New York. It's a relentless tone poem about mortality, and its rewards require dramatic patience from the audience.
Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a performance that shares something with his beautifully bleak vocal characterisation in the clay-mated Mary And Max) is an upstate New York theatre director - and no doubt a proxy for Kaufman. At the start of the film, Cotard is directing a daft version of Death Of A Salesman, coaxing a cast of good-looking young things to portrayals of the broken down and middle-aged characters from Miller's play. It's a neat metaphor for the inescapable ability of Father Time to wear down anyone, despite how carefree they might be. Caden, we sense, doesn't just involve himself with his work - it's a constant obsession that reaches to the back corners of his personal life at all times. He's heavily distanced from his daughter, Olive (Sadie Goldstein), and pot-smoking wife, Adele (the dazzling Catherine Keener), a painter of miniature figures whose mouths are appropriately shaped with an "O" of existential horror. Unlike their own artworks, which are fussed over endlessly, the Cotard home could use a new paint job: it's in a drab fug at all times, and looks like it hasn't known the rub of a vacuum cleaner in years. The only one who gets Cotard to look slightly less stooped and stumped about his lot is Hazel (Samantha Morton), a young lady from the theatre box office who invites him over for tea, only to find that her house is permanently on fire in one of the film's running Dadaist gags.
Synecdoche, New York will cleave audiences in half, and might send some to the exits early. When esteemed US critic Roger Ebert finished his review with the words "get over it", he meant: let the baroque internal logic consume you, don't fight it. Some form of acquiescence is indeed required to have any hope of navigating this unwieldy vision. Kaufman does anything but make it easy though; like a writer attacking his fourth draft with a red pen, Synecdoche, New York is in danger of refining and revising itself into non-existence. Its hall of constantly cranking and self-inverting mirrors both dizzies and fatigues, and in those bleak moments when the plot mechanics feel only at the service of a self-obsessed writer, it becomes an uninvolving exercise in formalism. But when emotion starts to ooze out of this central premise, it becomes a haunting meditation on ageing, the purpose of art, and the nature of mortality.