Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York ★★★★½

I think waiting a few years after my initial watch of “Synecdoche, New York” paid off: Kaufman’s work has always alluded me – with exceptions here and there – but none more so than his directed films, especially this one when I saw it roughly four years ago. Kaufman’s directed work seems to grow in stature when you age – there's many reasons why this works better for me as a 23-year old and not an 18-year old (or whatever age I last saw this) and one of the many reasons this works is because I believe Kaufman’s directed work ages alongside you; to understand “Synecdoche, New York” is to have attempted to understand life and realize that understanding life is pointless – if there was a film that mirrored my own thought as of late, I’m pointing all fingers at this.

One of the criticisms of the film is that it’s messy and all over the place yet with the story Kaufman is trying to tell, I find that the narrative has to be messy: there’s no sign of time change throughout the film – the only details we get that point to the idea of time passing are from Caden’s greying hair or the introduction of a cane for him, characters who didn’t wear glasses now wear them on the tips of their noses, things of that nature – because we’re trapped in the world of a middle aged man where things start hitting at him from all corners; health issues, marriage problems, divorces, illnesses – Caden loses his sense of time because his life begins to fall apart (I'd argue that it falls apart as soon as his sink gives him stiches, but we get the sense that the duct tape and Elmer’s glue holding his life together is reaching its end even prior to it), so he finds that by pushing his magnum opus, it may help him understand why his life is so meaningless and pointless – in many ways, it helps him realize things about himself, but it also ruins him because of how much he loses because of the project. In the matter of two hours, Kaufman is creating a messy film to mirror a messy, dissolving life.

Humanity, in my opinion, struggles with the idea of knowledge. What I mean by this is that humanity – through many different outlets – chooses to gravitate towards things that bring them comfort and give them some sort of knowledge in knowing the impossible: God, death, the afterlife – things we cannot know, but we claim to know. It seems that Kaufman, with Caden, has created a character just like that: he, quite literally, fears death in every capacity, especially fearing it more since his body grows weaker throughout the film. So, fearing death and fearing that his life is pointless, he creates a play that allows him to create life – he, like many other people, gravitates towards something that brings him comfort in an unanswerable question; Caden’s play is his Earth and he is the God – he controls life through his actors who play themselves or find themselves being played by actors because they’re already in the play. Does it bring him comfort in knowing he’s become this God? Perhaps. It allows him to step away from his worries and plant his own fixation with his own Utopia and create and birth something else – in which then it makes sense why he loses track of time because he’s been racing from it for so long.

His disillusionment with his play is just that: God slowly realizing he’s nothing more than an actor on the stage that is his own life. Caden sees death – his ex-wife, his daughter, and the love of his life all die as soon as Caden becomes disillusioned with what his play is becoming. So, they cast a God to orchestrate God to his end. It’s at this point do we realize that the play will never be released: this was a project, like many of Kaufman’s other films, created by the artist, for the artist to help them understand their own worries and fears. When Caden begins to wither away, there lies no point in the play’s existence anymore because its God is dying: the world cannot go on without Caden, so the world begins to crumble at his feet: bodies on the street, smoke in the air, buildings falling apart – all Caden can do is look around and see that everything he did was meaningless and had meaning: it brought him closer in understanding something that couldn’t be understood, but it cost him years of life in order to understand that life is the most important thing and how you life your life and what brings you joy should be your worry. We will all die, and we will then understand the unanswered questions, but for now, we must enjoy what we have because it’s as easily given as it is easily taken away – Caden dying on Millicent’s cue only confirms that.

In my, and the film’s rather biting opinion, the longer people realize that there is no certainty to anything – God, death, afterlife – the quicker people can realize that living your life as good of a person you can possibly be without having self-imposed certainty and answers will bring you comfort. Caden got too wrapped up in that idea and it ruined him – Kaufman wants us to reflect on Caden’s mistakes and implore that we change them if we mirror his own end.

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