Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York ★★★★★

I wrote this essay for my sophomore GT English Class. It was originally structured like a screenplay so I had to change it a bit. I was considering condensing this but I wanted to make it as honest and "me" as possible. I talk about my life in a memoir esque way to explain and give all the background for why SNY is my favorite film of all time. I wanted to flesh out my feelings on why this is such an important film in my life, and why it is significant. If you are expecting an analysis, skip it. But I wrote this to put in perspective what the film has done for me. Think of it as a review disguised as a memoir, or vice versa. If I'm ever going to "get real" within a letterboxd review, why not do it with the most honest film of all time. So, without further ado...


It's a normal, breezy day in New York City. Slightly overcast, isn't particularly sunny or bright, but still feels like a magical afternoon. Magical, not like something you see out of the ordinary, or something special, but a feeling in your heart. A feeling of fulfillment, passion, or love. A feeling of unfamiliarity, yet you know you belong. When a child has a feeling of comfort, they're willing to do anything for the sake of joy. For the sake of a new experience. To go out into the new world that they've feasted their eyes on. So naturally, I did.

“Can I go play over there?”

No response.

“Can I?”

I asked, so I figured that should be enough. Along with the other children, I was enjoying myself on the human-sized rocks and uniquely designed play equipment, the kind of things an adventurous 8-year old would enjoy. Naturally, I realized I was probably enjoying myself for a bit too long. I began to walk back towards where my family was standing. I came to realize they weren't there anymore. I was calm at first until I came to terms that I couldn't find them. I pondered around for a while, quickly turning my head to look in every corner. Suddenly, a feeling of despair and emptiness came over me. I was scared, not only scared like a child but frightened how I would live the rest of my life without a family.

Existential fear.

My loneliness had overtaken any sense of hope in my body. I glanced up at the trademark tall NYC buildings and began to wonder how I would make it such a big world. I really thought my life was about to change. I felt a tear sliver down my face. The park was jam-packed with people, making it extremely difficult to make out where a single member of my family might be. It most definitely isn't "a small world after all."


Life is boring. Especially during a worldwide pandemic when you have no incentive to do anything but watch films. I always love to find beauty in mundanity as does much of the human race. That's why Sci-fi flicks like Star Wars and superhero movies like The Avengers are so popular, people want to escape. Sure, it's a familiar territory of film but it's what the general public wants. Audience's love escapism. Why shouldn't they? The real world is full of criminals, pollution, politics, illness, death, you name it. I believe you can have a balance of both, realism and escapism. One to have fun and to be introduced to a new world, but realism can be just as entertaining if not life-changing. Life-changing…

On May 20th of 2020, I watched the 2008 film Synecdoche, New York.

It was very late at night, I watched it in my bedroom but I had no idea what I was about to get myself into. I was preparing to watch something that would alter my perspective on everything really, I had heard so many astonishing remarks about it from people I trust and it has a masterpiece status. One of my favorite YouTuber's recorded a 15-minute video stating it was his favorite film of all time and why. Mr. Karsten Runquist began to go into detail about his experiences with death, grief, and his experiences in high school. I began to realize if Karsten's life experiences struck a chord with mine, I should watch the same film that had such a substantial impact on him.

I would not go this in-depth on a film if it didn't hugely impact my existence.


Keith Davidson was a pastor.

Keith Davidson was a man who had endless love for all of his family members.

Keith Davidson was the kind of man to act grumpy but secretly had the kindest heart of all.

Keith Davidson was the kid who could've had a chance to play college football but had to quit and spend the final year of high school taking care of his sick father.

Keith Davidson was a man I wished I knew better before he left.

“I love you, grandpa. I'll always love you. I don't want you to go.”

I never got a response. Ever since we showed up at the hospital the sedatives and life support were too much for him to even be awake. There were short moments of him muttering, or he would squeeze our hands. The indications of love. He had a whole extended family surrounding him, one that would not be possible without him. One he had created.

The strangest thing about it was, in those days in the hospital, weeks later, the hospice even, I've never been so overwhelmingly sad in my whole life. I've never cried so hard, even when I was a baby. In those moments, I couldn't stop. I couldn't stop embracing his body. For a 13-year-old to lose his grandfather, and still tear up over it even to this day is kind of traumatizing.

I didn't cry during the funeral. I'm still not sure why. I spent weeks accepting he would die before his actual death. Something about the anticipation of someone you know will die while they're still there is heartbreaking. And even tougher when it's yourself…


I've never really known what to do with my life, as a career. Maybe a forensic scientist? A detective? (Yes, I watched a lot of cop shows). An actor? A director? I had always been into film ever since I was a kid. I would go to as many movies in theaters with my dad as possible, it was never a rare occurrence. As I got older, I started to watch more R rated movies and discovered more iconic directors and movies. The more people I talked to about film, online, or in person, the more passionate I became. I was eager to try out any new recommendations to expand my knowledge. It was more than a hobby. I had always considered pursuing filmmaking, but I didn't really understand what it took to be a filmmaker. I needed a backup plan of sorts, business presumably. Something more stable, because a director is not that stable of a job. That would be hard to do, right?

So, I finally finished my first viewing of Synecdoche, New York.

What is Synecdoche, New York? Well, it's a drama written and directed by Charlie Kaufman and about a theater director who decides to begin a passion project creating a replica of New York inside of a gigantic warehouse. But... it's so much more than that which can only be explained in one way, watching it.

"It is a play about dating, it's not a play just about death. It's about everything; dating, birth, death, life, family, all that."

Synecdoche, New York is Kaufman's finest work, and it's even more interesting when this came out, the reviews were very mixed. I find that fascinating, it seems revolutionary pieces always aren't understood at the initial time of their release.

The complexity of the film is so compelling, and meant to be picked apart, but also enjoyed by sitting down and absorbing the entire film. Constantly I found myself getting goosebumps and feeling something, feeling things we aren't accustomed to when we watch a horror movie, or a comedy, or even an oscar-winning drama. I can't say Synecdoche, New York will ever be fully appreciated, it will, however, stay in each individual's mind after their viewing.

Every scene is just incredible and has something to say, most noticeably my favorite choice of Kaufman's was the dilation of time. It all seems like within a few days of each other, but in reality, it's weeks, months, years, decades.

Our main character, Caden Cotard, his last name coming from Cotard syndrome, which is a rare mental disorder in which the affected person holds the delusional belief that they are dead, do not exist, are putrefying, or have lost their blood or internal organs. He is constantly "dying" by all these diseases and disorders, but he soon realizes he's been dying all along, by solely existing.

Most of the film happens in his head, or what we are shown is distorted. As he slowly begins to die, as his brain shuts down, so does the world around him, war, death, violence, riots. He is constantly making models of real places, people, his whole life becomes a play. It's genius, and the meaning of life and finding your voice is even harder for him.

The score is phenomenal, it brings sorrow, but the music brings up the mundanity and gives a sense of hope, even if there is none left. The score is something I can listen to for pleasure, and it just might be my favorite from any film.

In short, Kaufman’s films are about what you take away from them and how it makes you feel after and during, his films always have tons to unpack. I think his films (well at least his directorials) are about how symbolism, existentialism, metaphors, and surrealism have an effect on you. You just have to understand what’s it’s trying to say, and how it applies to your life. You can find meaning in anything for his whole filmography, it’s just up to your interpretation. Life is short. Do what you can to make the most out of it. Be what you want to be. It can be depressing, but at the same time, realistic. It only becomes uplifting though with time.

There are many things to be taken away from Synecdoche, New York. The one I found most compelling?

I only get one life.

One life to be remembered for.

One life to make an impact.

I want to spend the rest of my life, watching movies, talking about them, writing about them, making them, why? Because that's what matters to me the most. Before I was hesitant, but now Kaufman inspired me to pursue life as a filmmaker. For each piece that I make and I move up in my career, no matter the genre, I want to inspire my audience or give them a new perspective to look at things and make them learn something about life or about themselves. At least that's any filmmaker's goal.

I'm going to die one day. I'm not sure when, but I want to die doing what I love, even if it means risking everything.

There are two separate pieces to life. One where you can't find a purpose, and another where it's so abundantly in your face you can't stop thinking about it.

Written by Graham Davidson

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