Directed by: Charlie Kaufman / 2008
Groundbreaking and celebrated, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) has crafted some of the most uniquely entertaining and creatively challenging movies to roar out of the past decade. One thing is for certain, I would not enjoy being Charlie’s brain as he must hit it hard like a game of racket ball. However, tackling at the art of directing his brain may have hurt him with his latest, “Synecdoche, NY”, a very ambitiously intricate and involved epic affair that I need to see again to make complete sense of. Kaufman very well may have created his masterwork, if I could just figure out what the heck he was exactly saying to me. It wasn’t a completely complicated cluster like Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales” train wreck. Nor was it art house at random, which I think Kaufman would be the first to make fun of something that was random and confusing and "arty" for the sake of. It was self-indulgent and pretentious and ridiculous and bizarre, like a Charlie Kaufman fan would now come to expect as the norm. But, I couldn’t agree more with acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert when he states, “…it’s a film that should never be seen unless you've already seen it at least once.” Really, that’s all there needs to be said for a review and/or poster for “Synecdoche, NY”, or any Kaufman movie for that matter.
“Synecdoche, NY” gives us the powerhouse reliable acting of Philip Seymour Hoffman as fledging, middle-aged playwright Caden Cotard who wants to leave behind something of importance before he dies except he keeps stumbling over the day-to-day of life’s road blocks. Caden’s enjoyments in life seem to range from sleeping in; to mumbling things with his wife; to reading the obituaries of notable talents in the local paper; to spending small bits of quality time with his daughter Olive and being over-involved in his current take on the classic play “Death of a Salesman”. He is also constantly reminded of death by either those around him or his own ailing health that he begins to see everywhere in television cartoons and commercials to people in his life. Caden also has a better relationship with every woman in his life but his wife. His wife is Adele (Catherine Keener), an up and coming painter of portraits so tiny that their name plates are larger and one needs a magnifying glass to even see and study them (a nice parallel to Caden’s own microscopic detailing of everything in his life and under the sun). Adele decides to attend her current gallery show in Berlin, thus deciding, as she feels the marriage is dwindling, to move extensively and uproot daughter Olive from Caden’s life. Soon after being devastated by life, Caden receives a special artistic grant of a large sum of money due to high praise for his current play. He’s encouraged to do something great with it, and embarks on his life project. It ends up advancing time rather quickly (don't flinch while watching as the passing of time goes extra fast in this film), all the while not realizing that years have gone by as he works to get not only his life back but also his life’s work. Soon the lines between life and work merge and Caden’s own life becomes nothing more than a product of his own play and his play becomes nothing but a product of his life…and so forth. It’s really something, trust me…but extremely hard to pen-down, even while watching it. It's a strange mess and I'm not even beginning to nail the explanation of it nor all the other little things and characters. It's ultimately a story about life. See it for yourself. See yourself for it.
I feel that previous movies scripted by Kaufman, directed either by equaled creative visionaries Spike Jonze (who was actually the first choice to direct “Synecdoche, NY”) or Michel Gondry, aid to multiple-multiple viewings due to their balancing act of supreme freshness, studies on life and human relationship, enjoyment, creativity, commentary, drama and comedy and with the added bonus of overall watch-ability. It’s not that it didn’t come housed with these stats, but I definitely don’t just want, but rather NEED to spend a second time with “Synecdoche, NY” and only a second time to make more sense of it. And for those who seemed to leave frustrated, one-third or even over three-fourths (!) through the showing that I was at, shame on you because you’ve really cheated yourselves and you’ve cheated Charlie Kaufman and a Charlie Kaufman movie.
Just like Charlie must do every day of his life, I’ve been racking my own brain for a couple of days now…and I find this to be a pretty good thing. I know that I saw something masterful, and there are a few things that are making more and more sense 36 hours later, but I feel that a second look would reveal more under the many layers of Charlie’s brain with this one and I look forward to this. After the wide-release opening and awards season dies down, please take it easy on yourself for just a little bit, Mr. Kaufman. However, I hope you get back to work ASAP because I will gladly see anything that you beat around in your own racket court whether it’s just writing or passing back between the daunting task of writing and directing.