Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Synecdoche, New York

"Knowing You Don't Know Is The First Step In Knowing. You Know?" If you find that title line to be funny, deep or transcendent, then you will love Synecdoche, New York. A film riddled with wordplay situational comedy, potty humor and the sick underbelly of humanity. If you like substance and concrete plot lines then you will leave this film disappointed and battling depression. Synecdoche, New York marks Charlie Kaufman's Directorial debut. Kaufman also wrote this film which many movie goers (myself included) will find hard to follow.

When I first saw the poster for Synecdoche, New Yorkpop up in my local theater I asked an employee about the film. He called the film "Schenectady." I have been to Schenectady and was certain it wasn't spelled Synecdoche. I chalked it up to the youth of this employee. During the opening credits, a song about Schenectady plays over the credits followed by a Schenectady radio program waking our star, Philip Seymour Hoffman. I immediately realized the error of my ways but continued to scratch my head regarding the spelling. The best I can figure is that this points to the fallibility of this film. Although intentional, it makes no sense to me why you would misspell the name of the city in this film's name.

Synecdoche, New Yorkprovides a voyeuristic look into the life of Caden Cotard (Hoffman), a Stage Director who we observe in the rehearsal stages of presenting Death of a Salesman. Cotards wife Adele (Catherine Keener...who coincidentally played Adele in Out of Sightas well) is too busy to attend Cotard's opening night. She claims that she has two paintings to complete for her upcoming art show in Berlin. Cotard returns to find Adele suffering the effects of getting stoned with her friend Maria (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Marriage Counseling does not help the two and Adele decides to travel to Berlin with their daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein), leaving Cotard to fend for himself.

The audience is queued to the fact that life is moving faster than it appears on film with slight details. It begins with the rapid healing of a wound that Cotard suffers early in the film. An injury that seemingly causes him to start falling apart. Does he need to see an Opthamologist or a Neurologist...or was that a Urologist (with brown pee, that might be a good idea). In a conversation seemingly a week after Adele leaves, Cotard corrects his Box Office Girl Hazel (Samantha Morton) when she mentions that Adele has been gone a year. Cotard corrects her and says it has been a week. The audience can be fairly certain it has been a year. The rapid pace of time allows Cotard to squeeze his entire life into a two hour examination.

Cotard wins rave reviews for his production of Death of a Salesman. Time Magazine extols his brilliance for casting young unknown cast members for the production. The success of this play leads to an enormous grant for Cotard to produce a meaningful piece of theater. The remainder of this film is constructed around the production of this theatrical masterpiece. The play becomes an examination of the examination of life. At times it becomes confusing. Players are cast to act out the lives of the real people, but then they start switching places leading to a convoluted excursion into reality versus stage.

While I was trying to decompress following this film I began with an examination of Death of a Salesman. There was so much information passed in Synecdoche, New York that I felt overwhelmed by the details. Why was Hazel's apartment always on fire? Why did the realtor's son live in her basement? Why did Olive die when her flower tattoos became diseased? Death of a Salesman challenged precepts about hard luck. In a "stream of consciousness" approach it looked at life more as external forces at work on an individual than flawed traits or missed opportunities of the character. I guess the stream of consciousness approach draws a parallel to assist in understanding the premise upon which Synecdoche, New York was built.

Read More About Synecdoche, New York


Mike Smith said...

Synecdoche: ( syn EC do che; from the Greek. "understanding one thing with another")--also known as Intellectio or Quick Conceite.

Substitution of part for whole, genus for species, or vice versa: All hands on deck," for example.

...The above definition comes from Richard Lanham's A HANDLIST OF RHETORICAL TERMS. "Synecdoche" is a word, and I couldn't disagree with you more about the rest of your equally uninformed review. I'd pick this one for Best Picture of the Year.

John Smith said...

The whole point of my review is that you shouldn't have to be THAT informed to enjoy a movie.