Charlie Kaufman is far from your standard screenwriter. Involved in some of the most intriguing and original scripts of the last decade – Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to name but three. But his latest creation, Synecdoche, New York, may overtake all the aforementioned films in terms of weirdness. However, it may also overtake them in quality.
OK so that’s a statement that will offend some, but it’s a valid point. Synecdoche is one of the most profoundly odd movies I’ve ever seen, but at points it’s witty, wryly observed and just plain surreal, all Kaufman hallmarks which he executes wonderfully. Now here is usually where I’d do a brief plot summary, but it’s honestly near-impossible to describe anything after the first 40 minutes, so I’ll just take you to that point and then you’ll have to just watch it.
Playwright Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman on astonishing form) has marital and mental trouble, and his artist wife Adele (Catherine Keener) decides to leave and take the couple’s young daughter Olive with her. Caden is constantly worried that he’s about to die and is an emotionally unstable person to say the very least. Shortly after his wife and child leave, Caden is granted a ‘genius grant’ for his work, an award which gives him unlimited funds to produce a theatre piece of his choice. Stumbling across a mammoth venue in the titular Synecdoche, he decides to create a full-scale recreation of the town itself, complete with actors playing every inhabitant, including himself.
If that sounds too odd for your palette, then this is not the film for you. The quirky plot only weaves further and further as the line between reality and imagination becomes blurred almost beyond recognition. However, despite the patent strangeness of Synecdoche, it’s still a beguiling movie. Hoffman’s Cotard is a hugely flawed character who ages as the movie progresses and is always seemingly beyond salvation, and as the unquestioned centre of the movie he is as watchable as he is bizarre, suffering an endless stream of medical ailments and emotional traumas.
Kaufman’s direction is handled wonderfully, showing the surreal and real with equal skill, and the fact that he chooses not to make a notable differentiation between the two stylistically really makes the film almost dreamlike from a viewer’s perspective. His characters all receive full development, including Cotard’s other loves Clare (Michelle Williams) and Hazel (Samantha Morton) who both play vital roles.
It’s been a few days since I watched this movie, and I think that’s helped with its digestion. This movie is unashamedly complex and its combination of surreal fantasy and realistic documentation never causes a clash, translating into a film which is probably better suited to re-watches than any other released in the last few years. Intelligent, intricate and as original as they come, Charlie Kaufman may have finally written a move that’s as odd as he is. And just as brilliant.
10/10 – Utterly bizarre, a complex analysis of the human mind and the burdens of genius which surely Kaufman himself must now be classed as. Posing more questions than it answers, Synecdoche is a real thinker of a film which is as intriguing and brilliant as its creator.