A psychologically troubled novelty supplier is nudged towards a romance with an English woman, all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman, and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Theater director Caden Cotard is mounting a new play. Fresh off of a successful production of Death of a Salesman, he has traded in the suburban blue-hairs and regional theater of Schenectady for the cultured audiences and bright footlights of Broadway. Armed with a MacArthur grant and determined to create a piece of brutal realism and honesty, something into which he can put his whole self, he gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse in Manhattan's theater district. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane, instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a small mock-up of the city outside. As the city inside the warehouse grows, Caden's own life veers wildly off the tracks. The shadow of his ex-wife Adele, a celebrated painter who left him years ago for Germany's art scene, sneers at him from every corner. Somewhere in Berlin, his daughter Olive is growing up under the questionable guidance of Adele's friend, Maria. He's helplessly driving his marriage to actress ... Written by
Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines "synecdoche" as: "a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage)." See more »
In the scene where Caden is talking to Hazel directly after having talked to the doctor after his seizure, there is a dog in a box behind Hazel in her box office. Upon cutting to Caden, and then cutting back, the dog is gone. This is the remnants of the character "Squishy", from the original draft of the script. The almost-dead dog was found by Hazel after driving home from the premiere. She was saddened by Caden denying her, and she finds the dog, run over and bloody on the side of the road. She decides to keep it. This is the only scene where he is present, and his presence is not explained. See more »
If you want the gratuitous ugliness of life, do something unpleasant instead.
Synecdoche, New York, ripped me off. It's not the dollar-fifty I paid at the discount theater to which I'm referring. See, generally speaking a director (or any kind of artist, for that matter) makes one of two choices. I feel Charlie Kaufman lied to me about the choice he made. Choice one is that the director makes a movie intended to make me happy. Pretty images, cute dialogue, and a happy ending to wrap it all up. You know, like most of the movies you and I and everyone likes. Choice two is the hard one. The artist portrays something ugly or unpleasant, but hopes that in so doing he will give me something I value: make me think or feel in a new way. Charlie Kaufman portrayed the less pleasant emotions of everyday people: loneliness, hopelessness, confusion, the dull fear of death. He did it using the intentionally confusing formula that seemed fresh and challenging in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, in which the viewer must tease out reality from fantasy. Now it just seems like busywork from a one trick pony. And he did it in ways that were intentionally unappealing. A few things, such as the anachronistic, dingy hospital scenes, I might like to describe as artfully ugly. Mostly I would describe this movie as gratuitously ugly. But the main problem with Kaufman's effort is that he thought making a movie unpleasant in unusual ways WAS the point. He forgot to give me anything to make me feel that the uncomfortable two-hour-four-minute journey I made with him was worth taking. The main character is a hypochondriac, and Kaufman portrayed this fear by showing me a whole bunch of tolerable-but-disgusting real and imagined scenes of his health and his body. I was tricked into believing that cringing through these ugly scenes would give me some sort of payoff in the end. Instead I was left with some vague, trite morals at the end . All the world's a stage, or something. Loneliness sucks, or something. People are all different or all the same, or something. Don't be self-indulgent, or something. Everybody's confused about what they should do in life and wishes there were answers, or something. Admittedly, the above could be considered Underlying Themes. If kidnapped by sadistic high school English teachers, I could probably write a five-paragraph essay on the Underlying Themes in Synecdoche, New York. So I'm sure that nothing I can say could potentially make Kaufman believe that this wasn't a "deep" movie. But to the best of my knowledge, Kaufman isn't a philosopher and unless I'm missing something he didn't say anything new about these themes. Sure, it's hard to say anything that's truly new. But what a "deep" movie can do is provoke self-exploration. When I go to a movie that provokes me in a certain way, I find myself wanting to discuss those themes with my friends afterward, and they usually find themselves wanting to do the same. After watching Synecdoche, New York, my friend and I found ourselves simply wanting to purge ourselves of the images of Caden's blood, fecal matter, skin diseases, and gum surgery by talking about hair products. I guess if I wanted to defend this movie, I'd say it portrays the reality of how ugly life can be sometimes. But it doesn't add any wisdom to that dialogue, so I'd rather be reminded of the ugliness of life by doing something more productive. Like standing in the DMV line.
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