Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York ★★★½

synecdoche: a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special, as in ten sail for ten ships or a Croesus for a rich man.

The following review will be intentionally reiterative in terms, so bear with me.

Kaufman's overtly ridiculously and exceedingly ambitious parable is a thought-provoking piece of meta-life in itself which actually succeeds at representing the failure of capturing life in its entirety in any artform just like this film fails to capture life in its entirety in any artform in a similar way the whole life-size replica of New York represents life itself and the protagonist represents the artist attempting to recreate life in an artform that, by definition, is subject to its own aesthetic, framing and cinematographic limits. It is no coincidence that the film also portrays other artforms trying to capture life, whereas Caden's work tries to capture death, abandonement, sickness and hopelessness. The metalevels of this film are quite endless, as the film's true achievement is capturing the failure of capturing life in its entirety, mirrored by Caden, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in a performance that outdoes the 90 percentile of the decade in world cinema.

To what extent, then, does the self-destructive state of Caden is mirroring Kaufman's obsession with portraying the little details on-screen? We have seen his three obsessions before: 1) life, 2) art, and 3) art's imitation of life.

1) Being John Malkovich (1998) satirically and surrealistically places existential questionings of the "what-if" if an individual was granted to play the life of another human being. This is my favorite Kaufman film, maybe because I am more concerned with questions about life than art itself, which is a beautifully transcendental exteriorization of the artist's life.
2-3) Adaptation (2002) begins with a meta-film perspective of Being John Malkovich placing Nicolas Cage as Charlie Kaufman, the real-life writer of BOTH films. This is a second meta-film level in which Kaufman actually writes about somebody playing a lovelorn version of himself, striving and getting frustrated because of his failure to adapt the work of another artist. Pay attention to the opening dialogue sequence: Kaufman desperately, and in a flawlessly written form, attempts to capture the little details of life and ends up realizing that no literature form can ccapture the complexity and minor details of our existence. Perhaps theater and cinema come closer; hence, the real Kaufman decided to be a writer of films, and not books. His perspective needs more "tangible", visual envisionings of his ideas.
3) Synecdoche, New York abandons the meta-film reign and has a protagonist that faces the horrid emotionally, spiritually and creative downfalls of a struggling theater artist trying to replicate not only his life, but the surroundings of his life. That is why I was bold enough to invent the term "metalife" for this film, in case it doesn't exist (haven't bothered to look, and if it does, maybe it has a different meaning than the one I'm intending). He directs himself in his own life and supervises it, which would create a never-ending circle of self-directing and life deconstruction and reconstruction.

No replica of one's life can be created with any means. And that's where the paradox begins. This film transmits that, but doesn't show it, because it is impossible. That's its most brilliant move. But it still doesn't do it. So it only remains at the transmission of the idea, ultimately resulting in the failure that Kaufman himself envisioned for himself since the beginning: Synecdoche, New York is a film full of himself and his frustrations, irradiating loneliness and simplifying the act of replicating life as a life that is devoid of any transcendental meaning beyond being born, growing up, shitting, fucking and dying. A speech in the middle of the film with the crew devoid of any audience for 17 years mirrors this.

So it is an intentionally incomplete film with an immaculate direction and an unfulfilled purpose, because this purpose is impossible, and Kaufman didn't even care. But he nas new ideas, I'm sure, as Caden does, before "dying". That's a fascinating paradox that leaves you simultaneously perplexed just as it lives you with a powerful effect of isolation, but also of incompleteness. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the mercilessly quick editing shifting through time without mercy has the immediate and ironic consequence of missing details of life, as it is impossible to capture the completeness of life in two hours. Maybe that's how life passes in front of Caden's work, but I would bet for my other hypothesis: that the quick editing and passing of time an unavoidable limit of artforms against life. And the fact that it wonderfully breaks the most common audience perceptions of chronology, personalities, space and time, a stunt that I loved from the film, seems to be betraying the original intention of this artwork, because it is a contradiction.

Take a shot for every time I said "life".


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