Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York ★★★★★

Absolutely mind bending brilliance from Charlie Kaufman. This is my introduction to Kaufman as director having not seen Anomalisa but I came in as a huge fan of his writing. I can safely say I consider Synecdoche, a film as ambitious as its central character's play, his finest work. It's a difficult film to write about because on one watch it's really an overwhelming experience to process into a read of the film as a whole (if that's even possible).

It can be an extremely depressing film, especially so in the first third. It's steeped in the paranoia of the fragility of the human body, a fear that hits close to home for me personally. In the beginning of the film Caden sees this fear in everything around him- his daughter worries about green stool, television programs describe what a virus is, the newspaper is full of obituaries, and so on. After a razor accident he bounces from doctor to doctor getting noncommittal but vaguely concerning medical advice as his body breaks down.

He's also growing apart from his wife who declares she's headed to Germany for a month with his daughter but without him. A consecutive series of dental visits (first a checkup, then a three month revisit, and finally a later gum surgery) catapults us into the future as the film turns from stilted to fully surreal. A grant he receives for his plays gives him the financial freedom to create something true to himself, however murky that self actually is. The "play" is really just sections of New York in a replica of the city inside warehouses. The "characters" are just people in Caden's life and eventually himself living out actual events.

The lines of reality and fiction become so blurred for Caden and the audience that it's impossible to find your footing. Real arguments he should be having play out between his characters instead, some of which playing themselves. Names of characters in the film and the actors playing them are used so interchangeably that on this first watch I couldn't keep them straight before eventually realizing it doesn't matter. These people are two sides of the same coin, an idea firmly established throughout the film through comically confusing double meanings of words or two words sounding the same but meaning different things entirely.

The only thing I can be certain of is that the film is generally about coming to terms with death, explicitly explored in the earpiece fed stage directions and the priest's speech late in the film but set up throughout in retrospect. The depressing throughlines are undercut by the humor and eventually mutate into something deeply humanist that's more melancholic than uplifting but emphasizes the importance of the gift of life. There are no extras in life, everyone is their own main character and we're all connected whether we realize it or not. Synecdoche represents the high water mark in the career of a genius, a genuine modern masterpiece.

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