April 30, 2010

Synechdoche, New York - 2008

Director: Charlie Kaufman
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Emily Browning

"I will be dying and so will you, and so will everyone here. That's what I want to explore. We're all hurtling towards death, yet here we are for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we're going to die, each of us secretly believing we won't." The directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman (writer of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind), Synecdoche tells the story of Caden Cotard (Hoffman), a struggling playwright who, after being left by his wife (Keener) and convinced of his impending death by one condition mounting upon another, embarks on the great task of any artist's life: to create something that will outlast him and be remembered throughout the ages. His grand idea involves reproducing a section of the city inside a massive warehouse, and having the actors portray himself and the people in his life. Within the city in the warehouse is a smaller warehouse containing a smaller city, and a third warehouse inside that (hence the film's title, not just a play on the town of Schenectady, but the term where a part of something is used to describe the whole).
I'll be the first to admit that this film went slightly over my head, but that's the only thing that would stop me from recommending it outright. Hoffman is an incredible actor in everything I've seen him in, and his Charles Foster Kane-eque portrayal of Cotard (the film takes place over a few decades of his life), aided by the stellar makeup effects, is no exception; his performance leads everyone else's the way a director should lead his cast. Synecdoche ended up on several critics' top 10 lists for the first decade of the new millennium, but I can't hold it in such high regard. It's a tad too cerebral (but without being pretentious) for most to enjoy, which is a dealbreaker for me.

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