Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York ★★★★

Having reached the end of my Charlie Kaufman marathon, I can positively say that I prefer Kaufman when he has a Spike Jonze or a Michel Gondry to rein him in. Synecdoche, New York gave me the same detached feeling I had watching I'm Thinking of Ending Things, consistently invested but always on the periphery.

I find Kaufman's work far more digestible with Jonze's subdued direction, which affords his scatterbrained approach a sense of clarity. That's not to say other directors dumb down Kaufman's work or dilute the themes; quite the opposite actually. They know how to focus the themes, so that the film doesn't come across as merely a series of existential ramblings.

I've also noticed that Kaufman tends to lean into a more sombre, melancholy tone when he directs, as opposed to the razor-sharp dark humour in Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ultimately, this is to the detriment of the film, as there's little to no levity from the morbid misery that the film continously pummells you with.

Now onto what I admired: Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a performance for the ages. The blurring of the line between reality and fiction is a really strong idea. It got to the point where I was confused as to who was onscreen at any given moment, and I think this was a deliberate choice from Kaufman to show how the theatre production was in effect becoming Caden's reality.

I absolutely respect the artistry on display here, and it really does feel like Charlie Kaufman's magnum opus in terms of showcasing the ultimate tale of the artist's struggle, but it felt cold and emotionally distant at the same time. It's one that will require another viewing to fully appreciate, as is frequently the case with Kaufman's work, so for now I'll give it the obligatory 4/5 star rating.