Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Drama
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener
A theatre director struggles with his work, and the women in his life, as he creates a life-size replica of New York City inside a warehouse as part of his new play.
Charlie Kaufman's ambitious directorial debut occasionally strains to connect, but ultimately provides fascinating insight into a writer's mind.
  • Sydney Kimmel Entertainment Company:
  • R Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 05 Feb 2009 Released:
  • 31 Mar 2009 DVD Release:
  • $3.0M Box office:

Trailer:

A thought-provoking, challenging Kaufman experience.8/10
syn⋅ec⋅do⋅che: a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special 'Synecdoche, New York' marks Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut. A monumental event on its own right. It is a maddening venture, a staggering project to face life's greatest of mysteries. Kaufman takes us on a soul-searching journey, one that he is taking every bit as much as we. It is a trip unlike any I have ever seen, and to say that I enjoyed it would be a very difficult thing to say. But 'Synecdoche' seems to be pointing towards something very profound, as undecipherable as it may appear. A flawed masterpiece, and a risk Kaufman seems willing to take.

There's nothing easy about 'Synecdoche', it is one of the most difficult films I've sat through. It's the sprawling story of one man's life, a tragic life. Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a harrowing performance as his character attempts to create a play of realism and honesty. And even as he dives head first into his work, his own life is in a perpetual state of free fall. A wife who leaves him, a daughter out of his life, relationships that crash and burn. His play, inside a warehouse where he has reconstructed New York City for people to live our their ordinary lives, becomes a fruitless and maddening descent into unhappiness and destruction.

What is 'Synecdoche' about? Is it one man's search for meaning in the midst of meaninglessness? That in order to appreciate the preciousness of life, we must accept the inherent chaos. Existence is what we make of it, and it is the choices we make that shape and define who we are and the lives we lead. Every choice brings with it a million different consequences, some seen and others that go unnoticed.

Kaufman tells us we are one in a world of many. We each play a starring role in the story of our life. People we meet every day, those we know and love. Never will we truly know them, their thoughts, or why they do what they do. And maybe it's not up to us to decipher what we will never understand. We must look inward, not to others, to find peace and insight.

If life is a play, the world is our stage. We only have this one shot, no second chances. We try to control our projectories, cast roles that need to be filled. In the end, what does it matter? Will the world miss us when we're gone? Life is what you make of it. 'Synecdoche, New York' dares to search for meaning, reconcile paradoxes to which there are no answers. But that doesn't keep Kaufman from giving it his best, as tedious and heart-wrenching as it may sometimes be.

More reviews: rottentomatoes.com/vine/journal_view.php?journalid=219276&view=public
One of the Most Deeply Affecting Movies I've Seen in a Long Time10/10
It's virtually impossible to summarize my feelings on "Synecdoche, New York." This astonishing brain teaser from the mind of Charlie Kaufman affected me deeply, probably more than any film I've yet seen this year. I can't say it's necessarily enjoyable, because it's full of uncomfortable, brave truths about what it means to be human, and it goes places most movies don't dare to. But watching it is a bracing experience, and it's encouraging to know that there are still filmmakers willing to use film as a means of challenging their audiences and picking at scabs that most people would prefer to remain solidly in place.

I can't begin to tell you what "Synecdoche, New York" means, and it wouldn't matter anyway, because I think it will mean different things to different people. A basic summary goes something like this: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a morose, depressed theatre director who's convinced that fatal diseases are lurking around every blood vessel, and who decides to stage a monstrous, ambitious theatrical work that will leave him remembered after he dies. Soon, the work as he's staging it becomes confused with the life he's living, so that he finds himself directing a version of himself through a story that seems to be made up as it moves along.

If this sounds like an act of mental masturbation by a pretentious intellectual with too much time on his hands, rest assured: "Synecdoche, New York" is not one of THOSE films. I didn't become impatient with Kaufman or his characters, like I have with some of his previous projects. In fact, this film made me uneasy because of how much of it I DID relate to. The conclusions it draws are that we are all alone in this big universe, life doesn't necessarily have any meaning other than what one brings to it, and there is not a higher power who is going to make sure our passage through the world makes sense. It was a bit of a wake up call to hear these beliefs, beliefs that I happen to share, stated so boldly, for while I'm confident in what I believe, that confidence doesn't make the beliefs themselves any less scary.

But depressing and nihilistic as those beliefs might sound, the film is life affirming in its own way. It suggests that too many of us spend too much time trying to make sense of the world and not enough time living in it. We pull back in loneliness and fear when faced with things bigger than ourselves rather than turning to those who can actually help, namely the other human beings with whom we share our time on this planet.

"Synecdoche, New York" will not likely find a big audience, as most people will either not want to work at understanding it or won't like what it has to say. But if you're willing to go into it with an open mind, you might just find yourself amazed.

Grade: A+
Phenomenal10/10
To start, let's make it clear that this movie will not be for everyone; I don't think any form of authentic art is. There is no flaw in this truth or in the people who do or do not find themselves moved by the art in question- it just is.

I do believe there are people who more intuitively and naturally reflect inward, on death, on life- the meanings of all these things; it is a natural state for them. And I believe there are people as equally blessed and cursed to not think very deeply on these matters. I think this film will find a comfortable home in the hearts of the former. Now, of these "inner seekers"- I believe you have all variations of folks- those that seek deeply and find beauty, connection, and great joy. There are those seek deeply and find isolation, grief, and deep wells of sadness. There are those who find some semblance of balance between the two. I myself lean more towards connection, and subsequent joy because of that… I found this movie to be profoundly moving- on almost a primordial level- and I believe- in a hopeful way. Don't get me wrong, I cried many times during the movie and didn't want to leave the theater when the film was finished. I held back the wells of whatever it was that was welling up in me until I got to my car and then unloaded some body shaking tears. It wasn't sadness, though… it was… something else. I don't really know yet. One thing I do know is that all of Kaufman's films seem to affect me in this manner. After the initial viewing- I know distinctly how the movie has affected me emotionally- I can FEEL it. I am not capable of defining that feeling, or explaining why that feeling has erupted (it is clear to everyone that his plot and content are generally all over the board and it usually takes several viewings to pull any real intellectual analysis from them)- but I certainly am conscious of something new and fresh happening inside my emotional hard wiring. I find that a phenomenal feat in the face of a sea of art which relies on very standardized ways of pulling it's consumers in emotionally. Do you remember how you felt after Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? I remember walking out and feeling very hopeful about the nature of love- in a whole brand new way. Not in the contrived, standardized Sleepless in Seattle kind of way… not to judge that- but there is something amazing about an artist who can make you feel things you are not sure you've felt before. That, to me, is authentic art. This really isn't about valuing one thing more than another- just offering great respect to someone who has taken your mind and heart to places it hasn't been before. It is nice to visit those old comfortable haunts, but this… well, like all of Kaufman's films- will take you somewhere entirely new- if you are predisposed to that kind of wandering.
Kaufman's Most Ambitious Film10/10
I got to see a screening of this in Boston, and let me admit to the fact that I consider this film a masterpiece. It is a rare entry into the market: an ambitious film, a gamble that, sadly, makes me question how much success it could garner in the mainstream box-office.

Charlie Kaufman, however, is not a screenwriter/director who inherently aims his sights on the box-office or the mainstream (anybody who questions this has to question Being John Malkovich). Instead, his greatest strength is a boundless creativity and insight into the qualities of humanity, and Synecdoche, New York is no exception. Rather, it is the apex of Kaufman at his most insightful, his most ambitious, and (as his directorial debut) his most hauntingly beautiful.

The plot itself is a contradiction of simplicity and complexity: to say that it is about Philip Seymour Hoffman trying to put on a larger than life play is an accurate statement, yet it completely fails to capture what Synecdoche, New York tries to convey. It is not a conventional film, but instead it is ambitious: a mixture of conventional narrative and surrealist cinema, one where the beauty of the film does not solely lie upon the plot, but the way every minute quality of the film ties together to form the tapestry.

The actors all do their parts brilliantly. I am hard-pressed to find any performance that was weak or, for that matter, standard of the Hollywood formula. Hoffman is brilliant in a role that utilizes his physical and acting gifts, and he takes the character through the spectrum of its possibilities. All the other actors also performed brilliantly, although what struck me as wonderful about the acting choices are that the majority of the actors present are not "glamorized" for the screen. Rather, the blemishes, the age, and the imperfections that make them ordinary are ever present in the film, making Synecdoche, New York seem beautiful in a strange, "dirty" way. Much like a city, its majesty lies not in grungy street corners or clogged rain gutters, but in the whole image that is comprised of such small, necessary imperfections.

And that, ultimately, is why Synecdoche, New York is such an ambitious, beautiful film. It is not a perfectly crafted standard screenplay, nor a perfectly executed piece of cinema. At least, Kaufman's work is not perfect under the current criteria of modern cinema. Synecdoche, New York is a gamble; a mixture of images and music and dialogue and acting that follows Kaufman's heart and his meditations on several ideas: namely, those on life and death and the connections all around us. It is dark yet funny, evocative and haunting. It is perfect in being a work of art that tempts us to find explanation, yet ultimately needs none compared to the feelings they evoke in us.

Viewers who are looking to see the difference between "art" and "entertainment" need only see Synecdoche.
Brilliant and bizarre!9/10
What a trip. You can't expect a conventional picture from Charlie Kaufman, but this was super weird! So weird that half the people left the theatre before the end, either confused or offended by what they saw. Poor Charlie witnessed the whole scene and I suspect it really got to him.

The film's very much Spike Jonze in style, but grander and more ambitious than Malkovich and Adaptation. The first hour is hilarious, next half an hour is still good and you're struggling not to lose threads, the last half an hour gets really messy and tends to drag a bit. It might be due to Charlie's inexperience as a director, or it might be intentional and a means to express one of the points of the film (futility and dragging of time), or the topics simply grew too difficult to deal with, but it seems to me that the last part could have been made a bit more compact for a stronger impression. Seven to ten minutes less would have helped, if that was possible.

Perhaps Jonze would have done a better job in terms of pacing and craftsmanship, but the content is still really strong. The film had been five years in the making and you can feel the issues that Kaufman wanted to address brimming over. Illness, death, transience, love, relationships, passion, devotion, art, theatre, identity, hope, so many topics dealt with in a painfully sincere way. You both laugh and get emotionally affected all the time along with being confused by the twists of the plot and the grotesqueness of the imagery. You get many 'this is so true' moments that you completely identify with and then you suddenly get struck by a completely surreal scene. The film certainly reinforced my impression of Kaufman as a bastard son of Woody Allen and Tom Stoppard.

The cast is wonderful. Philip Seymour Hoffman has to be singled out for his magnificent performance. I have never been much of a fan of his and I was somewhat bothered by the idea of him as a lead in the next Kaufman movie. I didn't think he had a presence for that, but did he prove me wrong! Appearing in virtually every scene, the man has carried this film on his shoulders. He has created a completely lovable and ludicrous character and conveyed Kaufman's ideas splendidly.

Catherine Keener is as fun and adorable as ever! As a fan, I was really overwhelmed by this experience. I saw it two nights in a row, and spent hours discussing it with friends. The film is a bit difficult to comprehend instantaneously and Kaufman himself insists it requires a second watching. It is an amazing picture, rarely thought-provoking, and I can't wait to see it for the third time.