Simon Ramshaw’s review published on Letterboxd:
"I will be dying and so will you, and so will everyone here. That's what I want to explore. We're all hurtling towards death, yet here we are for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we're going to die, each of us secretly believing we won't." - Caden Cotard
The final second of Synecdoche, New York is the highlight of the film. The very final moment that it culminates in is what I would call 'perfect'. It's actually saved it from getting a 6/10 rating. I won't spoil what it is, but it's a moment of pure emotional devastation that I think I'm going to remember for quite some time.
I wish I could say the same for the rest of the movie. While the ambition is there, it's simply too big for its boots. I'd go so far as to say that it's a mess. A massive, graceful mess. With the central theme of art imitating life and vice versa, the story is very firm in what it sets out to achieve. The complications of this duality are reflective on the structure of the film itself, with the protagonist seeing all that is in his life appearing in all forms of art: television, magazines, paintings, etc. What it all means, I'm unsure, but this is precisely where my problem lies. I believe the film over-complicates itself, and if that's the entire point, I got some of it, but most of it didn't hit me.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is remarkable though. With the age of his character steadily being piled on, his weariness is increasingly potent throughout. A sad-sack without being at all pathetic, his Caden Cotard is a hypnotic presence that alienates as much as he tugs at the heartstrings. I would have liked to have seen a bit more variety from Hoffman here, but the character's trajectory is clear from the very beginning, and deviation from this would have been ill advised.
There's fine support from Emily Watson, Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener and Michelle Williams as the pivotal women in his life, even if their success is brought in various degrees. Morton is the best of the bunch, and shows the most variety in her character's progression; beginning as a love-sick puppy, and ending as a wise, old sage.
Kaufman's script and direction is as brilliant as it is frustrating. Its habit of going down too many rabbit holes is the real flaw, and there's a sense that the viewer doesn't know quite where they began or where they're eventually going, ultimately leaving them lost. I don't know if that was the case for everyone else, but it certainly was for me.
Overall, I'm disappointed, but I think a re-watch will not go amiss in the future. For all those who haven't seen it, watch this film for the final moment. Stunning stuff.