A riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. Synecdoche New York (2008) is a masterpiece straight out of the mind of Charlie Kaufman, the genius behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). This is a film where the lines between reality and illusion are increasingly blurred, especially when it comes to reflecting on one’s own reality. Its synopsis is as follows:
A theatre director struggles with his work, and the women in his life, as he creates a life-size replica of New York City inside a warehouse as part of his new play. (source)
As aforementioned, this film can be quite confounding, but this is completely forgivable as the quality is so high. Synecdoche New York consists of layers upon layers of story as we follow theatre director Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and his interactions with the many women in his life, as he sorts through his creative output and his life, and designs his magnum opus; a play within a play (within a play?). Where this film becomes especially awesome is when the lines become blurred between what is the play, and what is Caden’s real life. The film is peppered with moments of surreality and nonsense, humour and extreme darkness. It is the ultimate game of psychological tug-of-war.
Synecdoche New York boasts an ensemble cast tour de force. There are so many impressive actors who show off stellar performances, most notably being the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whose powerful performance in this is an absolute show-stealer. He deftly wades through the heaviest of content in a way that is so approachable, and even when surrounded with the craziest of surrealism; he makes Caden’s situation borderline understandable on a human level. Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton and Dianne Wiest are all equally excellent as Caden’s women, each presenting as exceedingly natural despite their unnatural circumstances. I’m really not a fan of Jennifer Jason Leigh, but she was great in this also. I think with a film like this, which has the potential to be completely crazy and over the top, it is a huge benefit to the overall story that these capable actors were able to ground their characters so that they did not distract from all the craziness.
The direction is amazing. It’s not dissimilar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in that the camera follows Caden around and just watches him. There is a good mix between tight close-ups, mid range shots, and wide angle shots to take in an entire environment. This kind of direction further explores the film’s layered approach, as the information we see in a close-up shot is totally different to what we see in a wide angle shot; our intake of information depends on the way we see a situation, and how many times we see it. Kaufman’s style of directing is stunning and powerful, and in conjunction with Frederick Elme’s masterful cinematography, the result is mindblowing. The content, imagery and ideas in Synecdoche New York are cerebral and highly complex. But the direction perfectly reflects how this information should be organised.
What I love about this film is that it’s an utter mystery. When I watched this for the first time, it was with a friend of mine who had already watched it three times, and once the film ended he instantly said, “Yep, I would still watch it again”. The layered performances, the rewards for rewatching, and the unfolding nature of the story ensure that this is a film you will never forget. I’m not entirely sure I understood everything on the first watch, but I am really looking forward to the re-watch and putting more of the puzzle pieces together. It’s an absolute masterpiece.
Watch the trailer here.
Watch this film at Amazon!
Top marks, eh? Think I would like it??
I would actually really love to hear your thoughts on this! I can’t say for sure whether you’d like it or not, it’s a tough one – there’s boobs and weird stuff that you might like, but there’s also a lot of talking that you might find annoying! You should def watch it though.
It has been a while since I last seen it, but like you I quite liked it. One of those movies I want to check out again in the future.
I definitely think this is worth a re-watch every now and then!
I’ve not this in a while, might be due for a rematch soon, Glad I’m not the only one who found it deep yet overwhelming. There is a lot to take in.
Definitely! And from what I understand, the more you rewatch it, the more there is to understand. Such a great film.
I love this film and Charlie Kaufman! My favorite collaboration was with him and Michel Gondry in Human Nature.
I actually haven’t seen that one! Adding it to the list! 🙂
It is so complicated but not in an off-putting manner. Rather, we consistently feel enticed by its mystery and ambiguity. Awesome review Anna. I loved this upon first (and, so far, only) viewing!
Thanks heaps Adam! 🙂 I found this so intriguing in its complexity, particularly the idea of layers and how they affect the whole story. So great.
Wow. I cannot wait to see this! And if Tyson allows me to join in his ‘Recommended By’ blogathon still, I think this is the film I will review. This is maybe the second place I’ve seen this reviewed but both reviews have been stellar! Plus my love for PSH and the creative mind of Charlie Kaufman won’t stop me from seeing this regardless.
That idea for a blogathon is so awesome and I would definitely be interested in reading your thoughts on this one! The combo of PSH and Charlie Kaufman is pretty much unbeatable. Too much talent for one film to contain safely.
Good review. This movie would have worked a whole lot better, had they decided to not just cram the message down our throats every, single second. We get it: Life sucks and we’re all going to die! Anything else?
Thanks Dan! 🙂 Haha, this film does have quite the bleak message! Poor Caden Cotard.
Great review. This is one of those films that I have always been meaning to watch, but I just never feel in the mood. I just never feel up for battling how confounding I know it will be. But I really should get to it.
Thanks Tim! 🙂 I definitely agree with you, you don’t want to head in to this film without the right mindset. Otherwise it would be pretty overwhelming! But it is absolutely worth it.
Nice, sounds really interesting. I love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Me too. Both really excellent films!
I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, but absolutely loved it the second time. Problem is it’s so truthful, it’s actually very depressing.
Totally agreed! There’s a lot of brutal honesty in this one.
This sounds good, I totally need to see this. I had heard about it, but never got around to watching it. Thank you for bringing it back to my attention. You always have great picks.
Aw, thanks Melissa! 🙂 This is definitely one of those awesome films that you need to watch at some point!
Yes gotta check it out!
Oh my gosh, I want to watch this straight away! I mean, I absolutely LOVED Eternal Sunshine, and I also liked Being John Malkovich as well. So, clearly I’m already in the Kaufman camp!
If you enjoy those two then you have to see this! I love both those films as well. Charlie Kaufman is a genius!
I will have to revisit this. I remember really liking it when I first saw, even though it didn’t make complete sense. I love your clean writing style, both astute and personal. =)
Thanks so much Emily! 🙂 This film is such a stunner, I can’t wait to watch it again and see how my perception of it changes!
Hmm. Great review! : ) It’s funny – I mentioned this on my blog once (it was an article I posted – I’ve not seen the movie) and someone came along and FREAKED OUT about how much they HATE this movie. Lol. I’ve been curious about it ever since…
Haha! That’s hilarious. You should see it to find out who’s right! 😉
I think I will! 😉
[…] of the roadtrip scenery to make the film visually stunning. Elmes also worked as cinematorapher on Synecdoche New York (2008), and the two share a very dream-like visual landscape, even though one is more located on […]