DIR/ WRI: Charlie Kaufman • PRO: Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Sidney Kimmel, Anthony Bregman • DOP: Frederick Elmes • ED: Robert Frazen • DES: Mark Friedberg • CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Hope Davis
Just as in his previous logic-defying staples Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman once again bends the viewer’s perception of reality in his latest offering, Synecdoche, New York.
We follow the life of Caden Cotard (Seymour Hoffman), a successful but neurotic theatre-director whose pessimism and hypochondria are driving away his wife, Adele (Keener). We are brought, not always comfortably, along on his journey as he becomes increasingly obsessed with art, the meaning of life and the inevitability of death.
When he receives news that he has won the prestigious MacArthur grant following his latest theatre hit, Caden determines to create something significant and important; something profoundly truthful. The result is a philosophical crusade that sprawls across many years, seeking out and invading the life of every person that it can touch. Kaufman delicately layers the stories, ideas and desires of each character to the point where their lives blend together inseparably, making it is impossible to discriminate between what is real, what is fantasy and what is delusion.
Caden’s ‘masterpiece’ is contained in an enormous warehouse in downtown Schenectady: a living model city, built to scale and populated by an ever-expanding cast and crew, striving to mirror life in all its beauty and bleakness. We see the development of Caden’s changing relationships with Adele, Hazel and Claire, and in turn their changing relationships with everyone else, played out inside the reconstructed city within the warehouse. As the city grows, the borders of reality crumble: life on the inside and outside the warehouse imitate each the other in escalating circles until we begin to wonder if Caden, or anyone, could ever make sense of either.
Synecdoche, New York is leaps and bounds apart from the standard Hollywood flick, as is only to be expected from Kaufman. While some critics have blasted it as self-indulgent or pretentious, it remains a film with ambitions as large as those of its protagonist – which is really saying something. The casting is faultless, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener as brilliant as ever, and memorable performances by Michelle Williams (Claire), Samantha Morton (Hazel) and Emily Watson (Tammy). This may not be the first choice for those seeking romantic escapism, but it is nonetheless witty, honest and arresting. The visuals are stunning and unnerving in equal measure, the dialogue balances sharp wit with surreally detached reflection; it is overwhelming, tender, funny and, at times, horribly sad.
(See biog here)
Synecdoche, New York is released on 15th May 2009
Synecdoche, New York – Official Website