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
In the beginning Caden Cotard (Hoffman) is listening to the radio where an interview with a professor for Philosophy is playing. When she gives a bleak outlook on what life will become like, she is really citing a translation of the last paragraph of the seminal poem "Herbsttag" (Autumn Day) by famous German author and poet Rainer Maria Rilke, which, in its original language goes like this: Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr. Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben, wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben und wird in den Alleen hin und her unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben. 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 »
I've watched you forever, Caden, but you've never really looked at anyone other than yourself. So watch me. Watch my heart break. Watch me jump. Watch me learn that after death there's nothing. There's no more watching. There's no more following. No love. Say goodbye to Hazel for me. And say it to yourself, too. None of us has much time.
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I got to see a screening of this in Boston, and let me admit to the fact that I consider this film a masterpiece. It is a rare entry into the market: an ambitious film, a gamble that, sadly, makes me question how much success it could garner in the mainstream box-office.
Charlie Kaufman, however, is not a screenwriter/director who inherently aims his sights on the box-office or the mainstream (anybody who questions this has to question Being John Malkovich). Instead, his greatest strength is a boundless creativity and insight into the qualities of humanity, and Synecdoche, New York is no exception. Rather, it is the apex of Kaufman at his most insightful, his most ambitious, and (as his directorial debut) his most hauntingly beautiful.
The plot itself is a contradiction of simplicity and complexity: to say that it is about Philip Seymour Hoffman trying to put on a larger than life play is an accurate statement, yet it completely fails to capture what Synecdoche, New York tries to convey. It is not a conventional film, but instead it is ambitious: a mixture of conventional narrative and surrealist cinema, one where the beauty of the film does not solely lie upon the plot, but the way every minute quality of the film ties together to form the tapestry.
The actors all do their parts brilliantly. I am hard-pressed to find any performance that was weak or, for that matter, standard of the Hollywood formula. Hoffman is brilliant in a role that utilizes his physical and acting gifts, and he takes the character through the spectrum of its possibilities. All the other actors also performed brilliantly, although what struck me as wonderful about the acting choices are that the majority of the actors present are not "glamorized" for the screen. Rather, the blemishes, the age, and the imperfections that make them ordinary are ever present in the film, making Synecdoche, New York seem beautiful in a strange, "dirty" way. Much like a city, its majesty lies not in grungy street corners or clogged rain gutters, but in the whole image that is comprised of such small, necessary imperfections.
And that, ultimately, is why Synecdoche, New York is such an ambitious, beautiful film. It is not a perfectly crafted standard screenplay, nor a perfectly executed piece of cinema. At least, Kaufman's work is not perfect under the current criteria of modern cinema. Synecdoche, New York is a gamble; a mixture of images and music and dialogue and acting that follows Kaufman's heart and his meditations on several ideas: namely, those on life and death and the connections all around us. It is dark yet funny, evocative and haunting. It is perfect in being a work of art that tempts us to find explanation, yet ultimately needs none compared to the feelings they evoke in us.
Viewers who are looking to see the difference between "art" and "entertainment" need only see Synecdoche.
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