[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B002LIMNQI][/pullquote] Charlie Kaufman is one of Hollywood’s most eccentric writers. His previous works: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have all focused on humanities individual sense of self and with an experienced director alongside him have been interesting and unique if a little zany. Synecdoche, New York is his directorial debut and his first opportunity to have complete control of the creative reigns. The title is a play on the location in New York where the film is set (Schenectady) and the similarly pronounced term, synecdoche, meaning ‘to use a small part to describe the whole.’
The plot is incredibly complicated and in-depth, however to summarise as best possible: Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a New York theatre director with health and marital problems. He is awarded a MacArthur grant to use to create a theatre piece of realism and honesty. His solution to all of his problems is to buy an enormous warehouse and recreate real life within it, hiring thousands of actors to play thousands of other real people. He eventually gets completely caught up in his imaginary world and hires someone to play himself.
If that sounds confusing it is nothing to experience of watching Synecdoche, New York. Kaufman’s work has always explored the intricacies of the human brain and the idea of the ˜self,’ but without an accomplished director at the helm, there is no respite from his increasingly philosophical tangents. That’s not to say that he is a bad director, far from it, he’s able to extract beauty from utter despair, whilst giving all characters and incredible sense of realism without having to resort to wacky, zany or generally over-the-top performances.
Hoffman is the star of the show, but you cannot overlook Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton and Tom Noonan, who all give startling performances in a variety of roles. However it’s tough going and a large portion of the cinema-going audience would dismiss it out of hand. The film does come across as being very aware of how smart it is, which is annoying and frustrating in equal measure. It’s too self-indulgent and you’d be hard-pressed to ever want to watch it again. But there’s something there for everyone and if you can keep up with it, the rewards are huge.
Overall Synecdoche, New York is a passion-piece from one of the most creative and barmy writers in Hollywood today. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s too beautiful and intricately crafted to be entirely dismissed. For those who enjoy a wander into the brain of humanity, this will be a thoroughly rewarding experience.