Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.

Release Date: November 21st, 2008 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Charlie Kaufman Actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Tom Noonan, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Robin Weigert




obody wants to listen to other people’s misery – they have their own problems. This idea is visited repeatedly in Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York,” but he doesn’t heed his own pervading theme. Donning a guise similar to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Youth Without Youth,” in which the director delves so deeply in his own bouts with existentialism and the meaning of life that all consideration for the viewer’s understanding is tossed aside, the film remains borderline unintelligible throughout – as it deals exactly with someone else’s psychosis. Synecdoche (sin-neck-doe-key), a trope for the city of Schenectady, where much of the movie takes place, unveils many interesting ideas and characters, but the purpose of the film is so rooted amongst ambitious creative chaos that few will understand – or care about – its intentions.

When theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) realizes the frailty of his own mortality, it inspires him to create something grand before he departs this world. And that departure might be sooner than later, since an ever-surmounting mass of bad luck and depression quickly closes in upon him. Just as he inches nearer to determining how to present his newest play, a life-size replica of New York takes shape inside his theater warehouse, causing the lines of reality to blur with the surreal elements of his declining condition.

Plenty of humor (especially in tripped-over dialogue and oddball supporting characters, such as Hope Davis’ psychiatrist), wry conundrums, obsessions with love and accomplishment, and reflections on death exist in the fascinatingly weird world that “Synecdoche, New York” brings to the big screen. It’s essentially exactly what one might expect from Kaufman’s directorial debut, based on his own twisted screenplay. As other actors are cast in the roles of real people in Caden’s life, confusion sets in, beclouding the border of reality and his fiction – along with even more obscure definitions of time and narrative structure. There’s so much intricacy at work in the film to keep audiences transfixed; yet these bits of interesting meditations on everything Kaufman finds relevant as an artist are the very things that will push people away, especially when they’re unable to ride his eccentric wavelength.

Charlie Kaufman’s latest analysis of life and death may very well make its viewership reflect upon their own transience, or contemplate the importance of existence – but only because their minds will be wandering from a lack of coherence in the production playing onscreen. Hoffman portrays the withering artist with a sympathetic understanding, while everyone else plays multiple versions of each of their characters in Kaufman-esque fashion. But the tumultuous puzzlement of encroaching death affects the screenplay in far too surrealistic and disorderly a manner to please general audiences – or, perhaps, even the most enlightened scholar.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10