This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
charlie’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Synedoche, New York is a tour de force film from Charlie Kaufman about death. It's about dying without being understood, about dying without achieving any real success, about the sudden onset of death, and about waiting to die. It's a highly layered and thematic experience.
Time and the passage of time is also a major theme. The film revels in the absurd and surreal, and the manipulation of time contributes to the experience. Cotard, portrayed by the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, struggles with time. His constant obsession with his own death detracts from his grip on reality. Time slips through our fingers and is cyclic. "The end is built into the beginning". The dream like delivery helps establish an altered state of time passage. Cotard's routine keeps him stuck without the reigns to further his life. He cannot steer himself out of a life of despair and without ultimately dying. Time excels in irrational ways, Kaufman's delivery is quite imaginative and frightening. From expiring milk, to a lost child who grew up and died before the completion of a play, to a wife who hasn't called in a year while on "vacation", and to the death of everyone around you.
Throughout the film, Caden Cotard fails to be understood. It's a fear for many people. But for Cotard, it's his reality. Throughout the film, Cotard has various illnesses and ailments. His doctors also send him referrals to other specialists and ultimately it is not understood what the underlying issues are. His creative vision for his grand play is also misunderstood.
It takes him many years to attempt to complete his artistic expression. It ultimately fails to complete as many people come and go, change roles, and die. He doesn't understand how to portray his life and vision with anyone, not even himself. He completely lacks the ability to communicate with others. His first wife, Adele, doesn't understood nor care for him. Their outlooks on life are completely different, she's care free and he's meticulous. He later struggles to freely speak to his shrink/marriage counselor, Hazel and her counterpart Tammy, and his second wife Claire.
Cotard is berated with death throughout. His name itself, Cotard, is modeled upon the mental illness "Cotard's Delusion", which affect people by making them believe they are already dead, physically disfigured, or having lost an organ. Before the conclusion of the film, everyone that Cotard shares a relationship with dies. Both his parents, daughter and first wife, and many others die. If the surrounding characters don't explicitly die onscreen, they disappear without being referenced again.
Throughout the film, he encounters many physical issues. A facial sycosis, hints at chemotherapy, usage of a breathing machine, and the usage of a cane. He also ages quite rapidly, actually as well as everyone else, fully showing the excelled duration of time.
Synecdoche, New York offers many dissectible elements. Maybe Caden Cotard is in purgatory, maybe his suicide attempt was successful. He's been labeled as already dead and living in a half world. I don't know. Maybe he's also searching for his true self. Without cutting away all of layers, including Sammy, no one really knows who Caden Cotard is. Charlie Kaufman created such a thematic piece here. Quite existential and very postmodern, this film seeks analysis.