By Blake Wilkins
I recently revisited Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut “Synedoche, New York” (2008). Kaufman is the mastermind screenwriter behind such works as “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” and the brilliant “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” “Synecodoche,” probably the most underrated and least known of Kaufman’s works, is by far his most unique film, and quite possibly one of the most unique films of the past decade.
The film is about a theater director called Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who struggles with his work, his relationships, and the ever-so-tragic force known as life. Sounds like a typical drama, right? Wrong. If we’ve learned anything from Charlie Kaufman, it’s that he is the farthest thing from typical.
Hoffman’s character produces a sucessful reimagining of “Death of a Salesman,” and receives a grant. He uses his newfound money to produce a play that is deeply personal, something real and raw. And what is more realistic than life itself? Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage,” quote becomes quite literal when he decides to build a life-size replica of New York within a warehouse. And within that replica is another warehouse with another replica. And another, and so on and so forth.
Now, know that this is a rare breed of film. I don’t recommend it to those I-couldn’t-even-understand-“Inception”-types, for their minds will be blown upon viewing this work of art. It’s refreshing to see a craftsman such as Kaufman expect intelligence out of his audience. Nothing is explained for you. It’s all up to interpretation.
What I took from it were extremely satisfying commentaries on isolation, paranoia, the meaning of art and death. Death plays a major part here. It’s the kind of flick you can watch over and over again and find new meanings with each viewing. Don’t expect to understand all of it your first go around. In fact, don’t expect to really understand it at all. Over the past four years, I’ve had many discussions about this film; many arguments, too. That is one of the great joys about this movie — the cultural back and forth. If you recall Ridley Scott’s most recent film “Prometheus,” you are probably well aware of the worldwide discussions of it that occurred over the message boards. For weeks on end people were dissecting and analyzing that flick to its bare bones. If “Synechdoche, New York” had as many views as that blockbuster giant, the blogosphere would be doing the same for years on end, finding themselves caught up in far more thoughtful and meaningful conversations than “so is this a freaking ‘Alien’ prequel or not?”
Summer season is finally over folks, so push all those popcorn flicks aside and give your brain a little work out. If you are a die-hard Charlie Kaufman fan, I can promise you’ll eat it up. If you are a new comer to his work, I suggest something on the lighter side like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” (available on Netflix to watch instantly.) Regardless of where you stand, check it out before you check out.
Rating: 4 of 4 friends say it’s worth their time