Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Film review: Synecdoche, New York

Director: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams
Country: USA

"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" – Caden Cotard.

Synecdoche, New York might be the most disquieting and unnerving trips you take to the cinema this year. Once the dust has settled and fog cleared, see it again; watch screenwriter maestro Charlie Kaufman at work in all his baffling genius not because his story is hard to understand but because it is challenging in all the right ways. It is a film not simply about generic thematic spectres of creativity, desire and death but about our own mortality and our own paralysing insecurity. Kaufman looks deep inside himself, projects, and taps into subconscious.

Time as force of pounding inevitability is all-pervasive in Synecdoche. Our latest Kaufman onscreen manifestation, theatre director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman so consistently brilliant its practically trite to mention), is a man obsessed with himself and his own imminent departure from the play of life. He casts 20somethings in Death Of A Salesman and time in his world passes with dizzying unease; blink and a month goes by, fall asleep and awake to find your waistline four inches wider and your hairline thinner in equal measure.

Ignoring for a moment elements like the sudden departure of Caden’s wife and child from his life, his hallucinations and girlfriends with homes perpetually on fire, the singular most stunning narrative device is the play about “everything.” Taking the $50,000 ‘genius grant’ he is awarded Caden’s rents a massive warehouse in New York and sets about telling his story about the world around him and, you know, Everything. And so it evolves into a play with a play within a life within a film, actors playing actors playing, well, you get the gist.

Poignancy hangs as thick as smoke billowing from an inferno and Kaufman explores as anarchy reigns within Caden’s make belief world while time marches on, blindly reaching for answers. “There are nearly thirteen million people in the world. None of those people is an extra. They're all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due,” says Caden. Synecdoche, New York is a witty, messy and utterly narcissistic movie, but my God is it an ambitious one – and one that will be deeply admired and appreciated for years to come.

This review first appeared in 3D World
Synecdoche, New York is still playing in selected Cinemas around Australia.