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Synecdoche, New York marked the directorial debut of iconoclastic, cerebral screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Caden Cotard, an eccentric playwright who lives with artist Adele Lack (Catherine Keener) and their daughter Olive in Schenectady, upstate New York. Prone to neuroses, misgivings and enormous self-doubt, Caden also begins suffering from accelerated physical deterioration - from blood in his stools to disfigured skin. Upon receiving a prestigious MacArthur grant, Caden decides to use the ...

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Apr 17, 2019

We Are All Leads In Our Own Stories

The new movie, "Synecdoche,New York is a challenging, only partially successful work about the difficulty in finding meaning and love in life. The movie is dark, post-modernistic in tone and frequently becomes surreal. Charlie Kaufman wrote and directed this movie.

The major character in the movie is Caden Cotard, played by Seymour Hoffman. Cotard is a theater director in Schenectady, New York in the midst of an unhappy marriage to his artist wife, Adele. The couple has a four-year old daughter, Olive. Caden is directing a local troupe in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" when Adele travels to Berlin with Olive, allegedly to promote her paintings. The trip becomes the end of the marriage. Caden subsequently receives a MacArthur Fellowship "genius" award and moves to New York City where he establishes himself in a warehouse. Over the course of many years, he tries to create a large play based upon the sorrows of every person and upon his own disappointments in love and life. The years slip by rapidly as Caden ages on the screen and his project seems in despair of realization. Caden's own life, his second marriage, and his relations with his daughter remain tormented and unhappy. His life and proposed play double each other in a confusing and disturbing way. At the end of the movie, Caden's vision seems to broaden beyond concern with his own difficulties, to a realization that every person must contend with sorrow and move in his or her own way to deal with it. ("There are millions of people in the world. None of these people is an extra. They're all leads in their own stories. They have to be given their due.")

The movie is filled with symbolism. Arthur Miller's play mirrors, in small scale, Caden's own play and life. The word "Synecdoche", which seems to be used as a distortion for "Schenectady," is defined as a figure in which the part is taken for the whole or the whole for the part. This is a concept which pervades the story. Caden Cotard's name alludes to Cotard's disease - known as nihilistic or negation delusion in which the sufferer holds a delusion that he or she does not exist, is dead, or has lost internal organs. This illness describes Caden's situation throughout most of the movie.

The characters, the streets, and the warehouse are presented in an unglamorized way, both realistic and symbolic. Caden, in particular, is shown as closed-in by his life in Schenectady, and, with his warts, illness and troubles, he ages ungracefully. There is a great deal of despair and a note of possible redemption in this movie. I found the film works better in concept than in execution, as it is disjointed, repetitive, and probably too large for its medium. Many viewers not knowing what to expect may be puzzled or frustrated by this movie. "Synecdoche, New York" is nevertheless a challenging, well-acted film for those viewers aware of modern thought and looking for a thought-provoking movie experience beyond simple entertainment.

Robin Friedman

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