Another addition to Sean’s list of the 10 greatest films of the 21st Century. Next up: Synecdoche, New York.

If there is one film that I find almost unbearable to watch and incredibly difficult to summarise my feelings on, it would have to be Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. I still however, cannot and will not forget it. Probably one of the most extraordinary yet harrowing depictions of life I have ever seen. Kaufman creates a modernised Greek Tragedy that holds life’s forbidden truths about what it means to live and die.

Let me warn you: this is not an ordinary film. For starters the plot serves as a juxtaposition of simplicity against complexity; it is a story about life. This particular story revolves around Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a miserable hypochondriac theatre director whose life is disintegrating before his blurry eyes. After agonising over various physical ailments and the deteriorating relationship with his wife Adele (Catherine Keener), he hits rock bottom when she, along with their four-year-old daughter Olive, leaves him to go to Berlin.

However, fortunes turn when he is later presented with the MacArthur Grant for his impressive directorial work and therefore decides to buy an enormous New York warehouse to hold his own masterpiece of a play. This will leave his legacy. We then watch as time passes with the constantly enlarging warehouse being isolated from the world outside and Caden’s own life destructing – this clouds his vision of reality and fantasy as he draws closer to his inevitable, inescapable death.

“He makes up a virtuoso cast, so seducing that we are brought into their world”

Everyone undoubtedly seems to believe that Christopher Nolan is the supreme lord of 21st century cinema; in my eyes Kaufman has been just as evolutionary, however. After a decade of ingeniously writing scripts such as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and the Oscar winning Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Kaufman takes the extra leap by delving into his directorial debut. With Synecdoche, New York, he penetrates his most compulsive fascination: the mind, and how it compromises reality, dreams, hallucinations… every possible medium.

He also handles themes like marriage, lines, passions, death and practically everything life has to offer. Hoffman gives an unforgettable performance as Caden, consistently changing his physical appearance as the decades pass, yet still controlling him with such intimacy that we understand every decision he makes and emotion he feels. He makes up a virtuoso cast, so seducing that we are brought into their world or as Caden poetically once says, “There are no extras. They are leads in their own story.”

“Caden Cotard could be anyone – even you and I.”

I do believe Synecdoche, New York will have a unique meaning to each person who watches it. My personal interpretation is that it conveys the message that instead of spending all our time figuring out life, we should just live it. Nonetheless my recommendation is to forget everything you have read here and just watch it with an open mind, as that will help you discover its true wonder.

Now finally let me explain that Caden Cotard could be anyone, even you and I. Kaufman’s greatest achievement here is showing that, like Caden, we are born in a crazy yet beautiful world. We unravel into different personalities through an unknown set of circumstances and then possess different wants. And later we ravel back into ourselves and die. This is life. This is Synecdoche, New York.

Sean McGurk

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Media courtesy of  Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.

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