This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
This is Charlie Kaufman's crowning achievement. It is not only his best film to date, it is one of the best films I have ever seen.
I rarely come across films anymore that manage to ensnare me in a narrative so disjointed, yet so enthralling I cannot help but be absorbed by it wholly. This film stretches the medium to its limits in a non-obfuscating way that is refreshing, unique and despite the deep layers it possesses, accessible in so far that there is an appealing and universal truth at the surface of it all.
Creation is art is life.
Kaufman's story has to be a film. It was created purposefully for it and he understands the medium so well. He knows that there are no limitations, only your imagination. The fact that he is a gifted and unique storyteller is on full display here. And what he does here is heartbreakingly beautiful.
The idea of the artist struggling with creative processes is not only a recurring theme in Kaufman's work, it is, and has been, a topic in the arts that has been extensively dealt with. And it always boils down to the ego, uncertainties and ambitions of the creator. In Kaufman's film this is no different. He adds some things to it, however, that elevates it from being a pompous and indulgent contemplation of the importance of art. He adds absurdity and humanity, two key ingredients that go so well together.
In the beginning of the film we are thrust into the life of Caden Cotard, a married director of plays who has a daughter of four. We are shown his life in all its mundaneness, with dreary routines and constant miscommunication. He cannot communicate with his wife and has problems understanding what his daughter's world is like. So far, so normal. There comes a point when Caden is left alone and that is when the chronology and sense of time disappears and we are completely left in the hands of Kaufman. What he takes us on is a journey of regret, life, death, love, sex and creation. It is first and foremost about life and Caden's inability to communicate with it. He is completely detached from the real world, reverts within himself and finally loses himself within his own reality. A reality that doesn't exist.
Because of Kaufman's completely illogical narrative structure where time doesn't seem to have the properties it has here and because of a kind of meta awareness of life, constantly shown to us through the metaphor of the play, I am inclined to think that Kaufman wants to show us a glimpse of a deathbed. Bear with me for a second here. There are a couple of ambiguous references that Caden is, in fact, dead. There is the actual suicide incident, which we are not shown in 'real life', but which does happen in the play. There is the slip of the tongue by the psychiatrist in the beginning of the film where she asks him 'Why did you do it?' when talking about suicide. And there is the Millicent monologue where she 'auditions' to become Caden: 'Caden Cotard is a man already dead, living in a half-world between stasis and antistasis. Time is concentrated and chronology confused for him. Up until recently he has strived valiantly to make sense of his situation, but now he has turned to stone.' That sounds like an epitaph. To me it felt as if we were shown Caden's fleshed out regrets about his life, his trepidations, his wants and desires and his unfulfilled ambitions, but all shown to us through a filter of a man who knows he can't change anything about it. Every time he is on the verge of an epiphany, he is distracted by either death or carnal pleasure. Only at the very end, when he is at peace and he has lost himself within himself completely he has found what he is looking for and knows what is what. He can then let go and find peace. Whether this death is physical or meta-physical is for us to decide.
Perhaps I'm delving too deep, but that is what it felt like for me. Kaufman's script is drenched in metaphor and the 'fake/real New York' is an artistic flash of brilliance. He truly has taken the Shakespearean quote about us being mere players on a stage to such a profound and very intelligent level, it can only bring forth a sense of awe and respect within me. Life within a life only leads to loss of self. That is what Caden finds out and that is what makes this film deeply tragic. If you ever need to explain the concept of 'angst' to someone, refer them here, to this stage within a stage.
Finally I'd like to pay tribute to three of my favourite words:
Philip Seymour Hoffman.
One of the best actors to ever grace the screen.