Synecdoche, New York (2008) – A Real Life Stage

This is one of the hardest movies. It’s just so difficult to conclude or even write a review. When a lot of people says that a movie doesn’t have to look from one direction, this movie is too personal to talk about. Watch it in the first view, this movie is a brilliant masterpiece. Watch it twice, this movie is so brilliant masterpiece. And watch it again and again, this isn’t a movie. It’s a movie about a story for me, you, and us. It’s about our complex life, mortal yet fleeting. When today is the best day you’ve ever lived, it feels too fast. Whereas why do we have to undergo tiredness, pain, panic, fear of death, it feels so long?

Ever remember when you were with your family, with the people you loved, memories of your birthday, or your best days? However, they suddenly disappeared and those days never seemed to exist. It’s like yesterday when it passed two years. Kaufman is the name behind this smart, complex, but insane screenplays. You can call it such as “Adaptation.“, “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. And here we are, “Synecdoche, New York”. This film is Charlie Kaufman’s first theatrical debut as a director. His films often full of metaphors, interwoven plots, between dream-like, fantasy, surrealism, and real life, a reflection of life.

Of course, a lot of absurdities make the audience have to think hard about the true meaning of this film. Instead, do you understand whether this film actually tells? As one of the films failed in the box office, qualitatively, Roger Ebert called this film the best movie of the decade in 2009. Even the actor who cast the main character, Philip Seymour Hoffman, was like a picture of the actor’s life. Directly unconsciously poured in the pot. Sadly, this humble guy passed away and made me realize who Seymour Hoffman was.

The story starts with a faded gray transition and it displays a clock. As the hour showed one minute passed, the title of the movie suddenly disappeared. As in the title appeared in an instant, describing Caden Cotard’s life running very fast. He lives with his wife, Catherine Keener as Adele Lack, a painter who specializes in small paintings. They have a daughter, Sadie Goldstein as Olive, four years old. First, Caden’s life on this autopilot has a rhythm. He was very obsessed with death. His surrounding, news, newspapers, and radio always announcing that someone had died.

After he left the house to pick up the newspaper, the date changed. He checked milk in the refrigerator had just been expired. Caden was involved in an affair with Samantha Morton as Hazel, working as a ticket keeper at the showroom where he directed a theater performance. Slurred and Hazel’s connection didn’t go smoothly. On the other hand, Caden still remains loyal to his wife and daughter. Adele’s matters even worse when she chose to leave Caden with Olive to live in Germany. They are also with Jennifer Jason Leigh as Maria, Adele’s best friend.

When the days of Caden collapsed, he was surrounded by solitude. Television always illustrates how depressed he was. As in TV it’s a reflection of his real life and foreshadowing as the story goes. At the time, Caden unexpectedly got a fund to be able to fulfill his artistic dreams. He got an insane idea, decided to make a massive theater show. The theater covers all life in the city of New York from buildings, characters, actors, to stories he poured out as an illustration of his life. It’s a meta-meta film, life imitates art imitates life. A boundary between staging and reality begins to fade.

Synecdoche, a description of part of something to express the whole or vice versa. Kaufman uses Cotard a representation of all the twists and turns of his life in the miniature city of New York as a massive giant theater. The theater is like a synecdoche, performances on stage represent events occur in real life. Instead, real life is seen as part of the theater. Life is just a stage, a performance, a scenario, and acting.

Cotard is the synecdoche of his life. It’s not clear whether the incident that occurred in his life was just a mere performance. However, what if the performance actually happened in real life? We never know the fate of Adele Lack after that or even Olive. We also never know who was Ellen Bascomb’s original figure. And certainly, we never know whether Caden Cotard is Philip Seymour Hoffman. What about Tom Noonan who also played Sammy as in real life, he never existed? Is he just a replica, copycat, or Caden just a part of dreams or imagination?

And yet, this guy, Charlie Kaufman, makes an unnatural boundary between imagination, reality, blurring, and fading becoming one. One story is just the skin of Charlie Kaufman or even Caden Cotard. What if Charlie Kaufman is Caden Cotard? In the science of psychology, Cotard is a delusion, a mental disorder known as a walking corpse syndrome. As a female actor offered herself to play Caden Cotard, she explained who the actual figure of Caden was.

There is a dead man, already dead but trying to find the true identity of his long-dead life as well. Cotard is a rare mental disorder, affected by a person to hold delusionally into his belief. They believe that they have long died, never existed, or have been frozen for a long time. They don’t have blood anymore, lose their goals in life as in Caden’s life, or don’t have organs. Everyone is alone and everyone needs love. Caden is one of them, someone who is trying to find a real form of happiness. Actually, the identity in him isn’t necessarily known by him. Never even understand how others feel or other people’s stories. Because basically, everyone has a story to tell.

Whatever exists in our modern life, sex, computers, video games, food, drinks, surgery, clothing, style, trending, internet, etc., we are always alone. Stuck in this narrow world, we all need all of them. In the individual domain, of course, everyone can choose what they think could make them happy and what doesn’t. However, pride in us is worth nothing if we are still alone. “Synecdoche, New York” basically offers a story about the way of life and the choices someone makes. Choices determine the ending in the story, just as Caden read a book written by his psychiatrist. When he doesn’t take the route or doesn’t take part in the story, then the book ends there. Separate lots of blank pages.

However, not only was Caden Cotard the main stage of this film, but Hazel is also a part of the story. When she tried to buy a house full of smoke, he knew very well how her condition and future fate. We are often in a bad situation whether we know our fate going forward but we still take the road.

What about Adele Lack Cotard as in a delicate art? She lives in a small picture of the part of her life where she paints with her dedication and passion. However, she also never realized that a quote referred to in a magazine, “When I see, I paint and when I paint, I feel”, is a form of her who imitates other people. She never got the idea, she just saw other people. We always imitate what other people make and use. Being part of our style, we are also happy. But, we just copy it. Nothing more than that.

As to say this is not a movie for everyone, just don’t judge people if they don’t like this movie. Also applies how the characters in this film see each other as actors, characters, and human beings. Seymour Hoffman is just too humble and too kind, although he is a kind of douchebag as Coden Cotard in some scenes like the elevator scene, he is just too pure and personal. We are so easy to sympathize with the figure of Caden, throughout his life constantly fighting against solitude, adversity, while questioning all difficulties. Although there are thousands of questions about sadness and death, Caden struggles against it all. And in the end, he still remained alone and death was always nearby even though he was still hanging around following the storyline.

So, what’s the point of the movie? Why are there so many things going wrong in this film? Why does the time in this film feel so fast? Why is there a zeppelin in this film? The title of the movie itself is just a title. There is nothing special about that. It’s not about theater even though the large scale theater in this film is a bit mind-blowing. However, that’s not the point.

“Synecdoche, New York” is a film about ourselves, each of us we meet even though we don’t know them, a magnificent set in a personal room. We see this actor from his/her perspective as the character and vice versa. The acting, the deconstruction, the Caden control, meanwhile, it was just yesterday. This life is too short to live long. We are getting old and faster, the more difficult it’s to find life in us, to be sick, to be tired, to be in deterioration. The movie is real, the play, the stage, is all real. Charlie Kaufman, what were you thinking?

5 out of 5 stars.

Salman Al Farisi

An Indonesian who loves to watch and read everything. A literary student who likes to write about reviews and essays on Crackdown Review. But, I just wannabe critics who love arthouse than anything.

One thought on “Synecdoche, New York (2008) – A Real Life Stage

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *