Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York ★★★★½

I either watched this at exactly the wrong time or exactly the right time, because it hit me like a fuckin' truck.

My experience with the work of Charlie Kaufman up 'til now has been a little rocky. I really like Being John Malkovich (which, of course, he wrote and didn't direct) but the only other project of his I've seen is I'm Thinking of Ending Things, which largely disappointed me. Going into Synecdoche I was simultaneously preparing myself for the worst and the best... but I need not have worried at all. This is near-perfect.

Caden Cotard is a theatre director stuck in a failing marriage and plagued by a seemingly endless string of physical ailments. Synecdoche, New York follows his life from this, the top of the downward spiral, all the way to rock bottom, and holy shit is the trip something to behold. Kaufman's post-modern sensibilities manifest themselves almost subtley at first (with off-kilter conversations and visual discrepancies) but before you know it, the characters are living out their whole lives in burning houses and building full-scale replicas of cities inside warehouses within said cities. Every single detail in each scene is rich with symbolism and metaphor, so much so that it's impossible to decipher it all upon one viewing. The crucial thing is, though, that this doesn't distract or detract from the central narrative.

It really is the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman who makes this film what it is. While I adore the surreal motifs and post-modernity of it all, none of that would work without an anchor to ground everything in real, palpable human emotion, and PSH is that anchor. As our desperately lonely and artistically unfulfilled protagonist, his performance is heart-breaking; tapping into a deep vein of sadness which I imagine everybody could relate to at their lowest. The through-line of failed relationships and unrequited love gets increasingly painful to watch as the film progresses and Caden becomes more and more numb to his devastation. Though there are also moments of levity and some fantastic pitch-black comedy throughout, the movie still had me in tears at multiple different points. I mean: "You've been a part of me forever... I breathe your name in every exhalation"? Jesus Christ, man.

Watching this made me understand the love that people have for Charlie Kaufman. The observations on human life, death, love, and self-actualisation are profound and mesmerising. Every cut; every musical cue; every line of obscure dialogue is meticulously chosen and executed but still all flows so naturally. It didn't always make sense to me, and as such I'm very excited to go back and revisit it as soon as possible to see what else I can uncover. Might need to emotionally recover first, though. Phew.

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