Synecdoche, New York Review

If you haven’t had a chance to see this movie, if it hasn’t come to your town yet or you don’t know anything about it, I’d suggest you do some quick research after reading the review here. It’s the kind of film where, even if it doesn’t exactly click with you, or you don’t get all of it, it doesn’t leave your system. It sticks with you and probably depresses you for a while. While watching it, you may find yourself overcome with a familiar sadness - something you can identify with, but aren’t sure if you should mention to anyone around you.

The first half of the film, especially, uses everyday situations in life to really get under your skin and drive you a little bit crazy. It’s easy to empathize with Caden Cotard because no matter if you’re a painter or a writer or a wire sculpter, there is that very real fear of people not understanding your work. Even if you say “I don’t care what people think of me as an artist,” there is a part of you that may be very put off if someone you respect doesn’t appreciate what you’ve done.  More than that, Caden’s a relatable character because he’s not sure what’s wrong with him for a very long time. When he tells his wife in bed, “I think I have blood in my stool,” and she brushes it aside, unwilling to think about what he means for even the briefest of moments, you not only feel for Caden’s possible sickness but his very place in life. It’s the kind of work Charlie Kaufman’s come to master in his career, always making things more densely layered than a lesser writer may.

This is Kaufman’s directorial debut, and thankfully, it shows no signs of immaturity or lack of experience. In fact, the way Kaufman structures his scenes shows a mastery of technique. Perhaps it comes from watching other fine directors interpret his stories, and he’s just picked up the craft along the way, but if you didn’t know a first-timer directed it, there’s no way you would know. His ability isn’t just evident in the compositions or editing style – it shines in the way he directs his actors. Everyone from leads to supporting characters present lines in the most subtly painful, masochistic ways possible, or in the cases of the few genuinely supportive, loving characters, their very souls shine through in their deliveries. It’s rare that a film has such universally flawless supporting performances, but there are an absurd amount of them in this film, and they are all, universally, flawless.

You know, my writing style varies from review to review. Compare this to my Doomsday review and you may not believe it’s the same critic. That said, there are so many points I could focus on in Synecdoche that it wouldn’t be fair to single any one of them out. The film, like its subject matter, has meticulously conceived works of genius inside of meticulously conceived works of genius inside of meticulously conceived works of genius and so on and so forth. The structure of the film and its morals mirrors that of its story so effortlessly that you may have trouble focusing on one topic when discussing it afterward. Synecdoche, New York is a massive achievement and an overwhelmingly beautiful success, and is far beyond worthy of your two hours, and your ten dollars. Trust me on that.

"Synecdoche, New York" opens October 24, 2008 and is rated R. Drama. Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Emily Watson.

Saul Berenbaum

I feel that movies can be great in many ways. I feel that a great movie could be an artistic masterpiece or a guns-a'blazin' roller-coaster, pure magic or pure camp. There is another type of film, which I detest more than those which are horrible - Those which are mediocre, unremarkable.


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