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Synecdoche, New York - A Movie Review: An Exceptional Directorial Debut of Charlie Kaufman

Updated on March 15, 2017

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” - Shakespeare, As You Like It.


That famous line is a metaphore that brilliantly projected in Synecdoche, New York, a masterpiece by Charlie Kaufman. The film was nominated in The Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His other masterpieces are Being John Malkovich (1999), Human Nature (2001), Adaptation (2002), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Charlie Kaufman who is known for his absurdity in plotting a film story and his exploration in psychology and human mind also analyzes the similar theme in Synecdoche, New York through its main character persona, Caden Cotar (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), a theater director who fights against his inner battle and the rise and fall of life, both in career and personal life. Caden Cotar struggles with the women in his life.

First with his wife, Adelle Lack Cotard (played by Catherine Keener), leaves him for a new life in Berlin with their only child, Olive (played by Sladie Goldstein). He then marries an actress in his cast, Charlie Keen (played by Michelle Williams), but ends up the same as the previous one. He also has a complicated romance with Hazel (the woman who works in the box office), played by Samantha Morton.

With everything that happens to him including his peculiar disease eating away his body, Caden leaves everything behind and dedicates his life into making a super realistic and honest play in a stage production of a life-size replica of New York which located inside a warehouse in Schenectady, New York. He gathers the casts of the play and replicate their real life into the play. The bounderies between fiction and reality just get blurrier because his extreme commitment to realism along with the distortion that happens to Caden’s very own reality which showed by the doppelgänger’s appearances, blurring the line between the world of the play and reality, among Caden, Sammy Barnathan who plays Caden, and the other characters.

A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a term for a part of something refers to the whole of something, or vice versa. [1] Synecdoche, New York portrays a production of a theater directed by Caden as a representation of his own life. But as the production of his play progresses, a turn of event precisely happened. It is Caden’s life that in fact get dictated by the theater’s director. Synecdoche’s play as a representation of human’s life in general : people around us, the ups and downs of life, up to the death waiting at the end of line.

In my opinion, to be honest, this is not the kind of film you can watch with you playing your phone and eating a bowl of popcorn while you are watching it. In other words, this is not a light film to watch, due to its complication of the plots. I can tell you that the film will confuse you with its absurdity that full of symbolisms. For example, there is a scene where Hazel buys a house that keep burning with an eternal flame. I can only guess that maybe it symbolizes thing that also happens in our life when we, as a human being, will always be confronted with choices and have to make a decision that we know is bad for us since the very beginning, but we choose to take the chances and later face the consequences that will follow us in our life. And that aspect is only a fraction of the myriads of symbolisms that Kaufman presents in Synecdoche, New York.

This movie also highlights mental illness, in hope to raise awareness about it, such as The Cotard Delusion (a rare mental illness, in which the afflicted person holds the delusion that he or she is dead, either figuratively or literally; yet said delusion of negation is not a symptom essentiacl to the syndrome proper[2]), The Capgras Delusion (or Capgras syndrome is a disorder in which a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member (or pet) has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor[3]) and Schizophrenia (a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real.4]

All in all, I honestly love Synecdoche, New York. For everything that presented in the film : the dialogues/meaningful lines, the amazing actors, and of course the absurdity and the symbolisms, the everything. This exceptional directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman absolutely goes to my one of the-best-film-of-all-time list. Thank you, Charlie Kauffman.


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