Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Synecdoche New York |
Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman
From Charlie Kaufman, comes a visual and philosophic adventure, Synechdoche, New York. As he did with his groundbreaking scripts for Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kaufman twis... more »
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Josh L. from KNOXVILLE, TN
Reviewed on 8/13/2009...
There’s this wonderful Nova documentary about String Theory called The Elegant Universe. String theory is all scary math and quantum mechanics, and the documentary attempts to explain to us wide-eyed laypeople the immensely complex ideas behind it. This is done with a mixture of graphical examples and a host of interviews with scientists who do their best to dumb it down for relatively easy consumption. Of course, I understood almost none of it. I’m analytical, but my ability to analyze is unfortunately stalled when numbers are involved. Nevertheless, what I did take from the documentary was an idea about the reverberation of life and the insanity that would surely come with trying to follow, not a single linear momentum, but an infinite number of threads: threads of possibility, outcome, repercussion, decision, etc. I thought about these ideas for days and eventually had to put them aside. There was just no end to it. The complexity was too big and, for some reason, thinking about these unseen strings almost always brought me to thoughts of death. Since I’m already a fairly morbid individual, this additional angle of perception wasn’t doing me much good. Watching Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, I was reminded of those ruminations and was again disquieted. Thanks, Chuck.
With his first directorial effort, Kaufman emerges like the bastard child of Woody Allen and David Lynch and does something that I wouldn’t have thought possible: he’s made a film about everything. And, like the vibrations of those aforementioned strings, we need only to look at one man’s life to see that idea in motion. I know, I know, it may sound like I’m rambling incoherently, but that is exactly what Kaufman’s film is. That is why I cannot hope to properly explain it here, for it is a spectacular rambling: a magnificent non-sense in which at least Kaufman’s version of the truth lies. I won’t pretend that I understood every angle of Kaufman’s narrative (the film demands multiple viewings), nor would I be foolish enough to attempt to categorize or summarize what the film is really about. I’m not even sure if Kaufman could tell you that. I can say that I found it profoundly moving, and quite painful.
To give you a basic outline, the film revolves around Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a 40-something theatre director who, through an immense project, attempts to place his life under a microscope. He builds a replica of Schenectady in a massive “theatre space” and begins to populate it with actors who “play” the real people in Caden’s life. His examination becomes labyrinthine, confused and intrusive. Roles are interchanged, reality blurs and purpose is forgotten. And the metaphysical plot or human condition, if you will, in all ways possible, is lost, found and then eventually accepted.
The film, as with most of Kaufman’s work, functions through the negotiations of the mind. Through his examination of an artist, Kaufman explores the very mechanics of life and, as such, the film is difficult. I don’t mean that in a negative way, of course. We have so little genuinely difficult cinema—cinema that asks us to put in work that is often so very rewarding. Kaufman’s film asks us to be introspective viewers. If we don’t view the film through introspection or even empathy, the connection is lost, because, ultimately, the film is about us. Some will no doubt dismiss the film or struggle against it, but we are all represented here. That’s why it’s so powerful. There’s nothing presented in the film that you don’t already know. The film represents a cynical and violent irony in that we all know the truth of our existence, we all know the futility of our struggles against the hurtling inevitabilities, yet we still struggle; we still deal in denial; we’re still afraid of the dark. Kaufman’s film knows this truth, as well, but doesn’t try to change our mind, or even reassure us that everything is going to be okay. No, Kaufman isn’t even aware of us—and I don’t think he believes anything will be okay, even if, like us, he keeps telling himself otherwise.
I fear this review has been somewhat of a failure, so I don’t feel too bad driving in the final nail by expressing my ever-increasing envy of Charlie Kaufman. The man has managed to make transcendent art out of self-indulgence and every time I dismiss an idea of mine as foolish or stupid, I think to myself: Kaufman could make it work. I feel like we might be brothers in psychosis, because like me, I think Mr. Kaufman spends too much time wandering the corridors of his own head. But, miraculously, he somehow escapes long enough to produce masterful work like Synecdoche, New York. I, on the other hand, am still stuck obsessing over the quantum strings, unable to enjoy the fruits of their reverberations.
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Cotard does lyotard
Daniel B. Clendenin | www.journeywithjesus.net | 11/15/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The question for this complex and weird film is whether writer-director Charlie Kaufman's artistic ambition will ultimately frustrate viewer patience. When I saw the film, a couple in front of me walked out halfway through. You will probably love or hate this film; reviews have been sharply divided.
Philip Seymour Hofmann stars as Caden Cotard, a theater director mired in all the midlife crises, real and imagined, of body, mind and spirit. The film begins conventionally enough, or so it seems, but there are telltale signs early-on that Kaufman is going to play with reality itself -- a cartoon on the family TV features Caden as a character, and a realtor walks a client through a house that is permanemtly on fire. Those are two ominous metaphors.
The giveway is that the name "Cotard" bears a striking resemblance to that of the French postmodernist Jean-Francois Lyotard. We shouldn't be surprised when Caden quits his career doing theater among the "blue hairs" in suburban Schenectady, New York, where his latest production was "Death of a Salesman," and with the help of a MacArthur genius grant (a cruel irony given his circumstances) moves to a cavernous warehouse in New York City and recreates his confused life through what eventually becomes a cast of hundreds of characters. Yes, life is a stage and we're the actors.
In his book The Post-Modern Condition (1979), Lyotard made (in)famous the notion of "incredulity toward meta-narrrative," a fancy way of saying that there are no truly universal or absolute meanings or truths in life, and that all meaning is a personal or social construction. This is exactly what Caden tries to do -- he creates meaning in his life through characters who portray his life. He keeps changing the name of the play, one of which is "Simulacrum" (= an insubstantial semblance of something). He keeps saying that he "finally" knows how he wants to direct the play. Indeed, the play is never finished but is instead a building project that piles floor upon floor of sets; it never ends. For Kaufman there's a very thin line between authenticity and absurdity, genuine reality and mere representation, living life and playing roles, healthy self-awareness (however painful) and oppressive self-consciousness, and between true life and certain death.
Does Caden's effort to manufacture even the barest micro-meaning make any sense? The last line of the movie offers a glimmer of hope. Maybe."
A beautiful, funny, sad and OH SO FRUSTRATING masterpiece
RMurray847 | Albuquerque, NM United States | 12/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I don't even know how to start reviewing SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, the new film from writer (ETERNAL SUNSHINE, ADAPTATION) and first-time director Charles Kaufman. I've been looking for a way in to this review since seeing the film two evenings ago.
Here's the best I can come up with: what WAITING FOR GODOT is to Theatre-Of-The-Absurd, SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK is to Film-of-the-Absurd. Both projects are brilliant, yet also maddeningly difficult to fathom at times. GODOT, set on a stage decorated with just one bare tree, dared to explore the very condition of living in a world without meaning. SYNECDOCHE uses all the tricks available to filmmakers to explore many of the same questions. Or perhaps it's just one big question.
GODOT is an all-time classic. It is both the epitome and the definition of absurdist theatre. Books have been written about it, and it is still stage with great regularity all over the world, by theatre companies eager to plumb new meaning (or any meaning) from it. SYNECDOCHE will probably not generate such devotion or ruminations. But to view this film is be immersed in the same feelings as a good production of GODOT will get you: to laugh, to feel great sadness, to be confused as hell and to also feel that true understanding of it is tantalizing close, and yet always out of reach.
(I'll admit right here that others will see this film and merely be extremely irritated by it, or think of it as a clever but somewhat boring mindgame. These are also quite valid reactions.)
The film begins on a seemingly typical day in the life of Caden (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) a theatre director in a smallish town in upstate New York (Synecdoche...and don't ask me why Kaufman didn't spell it Schenectady). He's near the opening of his production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN, and he seems as miserable doing what he does as Willy Loman is with his life. His clock radio comes on, and we hear that it is September 1. When Caden arrives in the kitchen for breakfast, the TV tells us it is Halloween, and moments later, a story indicating the date as November 2 is on the radio. So we get the idea, if we're paying attention, that Caden's days are all strikingly similar to each other and that if you see one morning, you're seeing them all. Time is zooming by him. To him, he might experience a week, but in fact a year goes by.
Anyway, Caden is married to Catherine Keener, a visual artist who paints very detailed and VERY tiny miniatures. Some of the funniest moments in film this year revolve around these miniatures...but it's a dry wit. (For example, here pictures are about 1" square. She's sending some to a gallery in Berlin, and for each painting, she has constructed a tiny little shipping crate, complete with excelsior.) Keener is also practically seething with loathing for Caden, because she feels he has long since given up searching for truth in his art. They have a young daughter, Olive.
Eventually, Caden's wife and child go to Berlin for a gallery opening, leaving Caden behind. And they never return. It is in these events that we begin to see how disconnected from life Caden is. He still believes his daughter is a young girl...but she ages into a young adult. Caden himself is visibly aging before our eyes...yet he doesn't seem aware of it. He's afflicted by mysterious ailments, which to him seem to come virtually all at once...yet in reality, they are illnesses that might come one at a time over a many decade span. The illnesses of aging.
During his life, Caden is surrounded by many women. Michelle Williams plays an actress who is enamored of Caden, or at least his ability to get her cast. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Keener's best friend, who may also be leading his daughter Olive astray. Hope Davis is his psychiatrist, who doesn't seem to be on his side at all. But most important is Hazel (Samantha Morton), his box office manager and the one woman who actually seems to cherish Caden...not that he can see it.
As if this weren't confusing enough, early in the movie, Caden is awarded a grant to produce a giant, meaningful, truthful and important piece...anything he wants to do. He rents perhaps the largest warehouse in the world and plans to stage "the truth." He begins to construct a set that basically is to consist of every setting in his own life, and begins to cast actors who will play everyone he's ever known. Yet he can never bring this piece to completion because while he attempts to stage his life, he continues to have a life, which results in needing to add more and more and more to the play. Years and years and years go by.
In two hours, we get to see all of Caden's adult life from the age of roughly 35. He appears to experience it in just months. Is Kaufman saying that Caden (and therefore US) are so busy trying to control, plan or understand our lives that it simply zooms by and we miss it? Yes, that is part of it. He's also reminding us that we are each the "stars" of our own lives...and that the supporting players in our lives are the "stars" of their own lives and that we might be more or less of supporting players in their lives than they are in ours.
But in the end, it seems that Kaufman is trying to make us feel what it is like to live, to age, to come to grips with all our disappointments and to finally get down to a basic understanding of ourselves. How everything is ultimately stripped away and we are left with nothing but our most basic needs. And how if we're lucky, those needs MIGHT be met before we die. But perhaps I'm wrong. That's my impression, but I'll be every viewer takes away something different.
The movie has many, many funny and ridiculous moments. I found myself laughing out loud many times. But the overall feeling is of a sadness so deep, it can only be a sadness of the soul. It isn't a pleasant feeling, particularly as some of the moments may strike a chord...but it feels accurate.
The film is beautifully made. Kaufman has used CGI to craft a stage setting for Caden's "masterpiece" that is breathtaking in scale. The makeup in the movie is wonderful as well...some of the most subtle aging work I've seen.
Everyone is very good. Keener is always an intelligent presence who pops off the screen, this time with barely concealed anger. Davis and Williams are quite good. Later, Emily Watson and Dianne Wiest make appearances, and they are also very welcome. But I've got to give special notice to 3 performers. Tom Noonan plays the man who is cast to play Caden in the play Caden produces. Noonan is an amazing screen presence, and while for a change he isn't playing a killer (MANHUNTER, THE PLEDGE), he manages to be both sympathetic yet a little scary. Samantha Morton deserves Oscar consideration for her glowing performance. And Hoffman once again knocks it out of the park (big surprise!). It's the kind of role we think he can do in his sleep...but he finds variations and tones that force him to dig deeper than we've seen.
I'm going to stop here, because while I've told you a lot, I've only skimmed the surface. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK is not going to be my favorite film of all time...but you can bet I'll return to it again and again, if only in the hopes of solving its beautiful and frustrating puzzle.
Interesting Idea, Tedious and Self-Indulgent Execution
Richard Yee | Georgia, USA | 04/06/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Let me put this review in perspective. I love Charlie Kaufman. "Adaptation" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" are two of my favorite movies of all time. I also have a history of loving bizarre movies, even if I don't understand everything that's going on. "Brazil," "Mulholland Drive," and "Primer" come to mind.
So the problem isn't that "Synecdoche, New York" is "too weird" for me. The problem is that, while those other films used their weirdness to enhance their stories or as pure mind-bending entertainment, the weirdness of this film just felt tedious and self-indulgent. It trampled on my brain rather than engaging it. The premise is intriguing (building a replica of a replica of a replica of reality), and the beginning of the film is quirky and funny, but the story just gets more and more complicated and emotionally detached, to the point that I couldn't wait for it to end. It reminds me of what Quentin Tarantino did with "Death Proof," and P.T. Anderson did with "There Will Be Blood," and M. Night Shyamalan did with "The Happening." You get to a point where you're popular enough to do whatever you want, and then you turn out a boring, self-indulgent mess.
Bottom line: The film bored and confused me more than it entertained, but if you're a Charlie Kaufman fan or a fan of bizarre, challenging, and philosophical movies, you might want to give it a chance. Apparently, many others have had the exact opposite experience as me, so you may find this more mentally stimulating than I did.
Richard Yee, author of Deliveries: A Collection"