Home > Review > Film Premise and Review: Synecdoche, New York

Film Premise and Review: Synecdoche, New York

I went to see this film last night. Read if you want spoilers. Otherwise, I would advise you to stop.

The film’s principal character is theatre director, Caden Cotard, as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and accounts his pathetic life. He appears to spend his life waiting for death. In fact, his whole life is consumed by it as evidenced at the beginning of the film, i.e. he is seen to be directing the play ‘Death of a Salesman’, a play which reportedly has 560 lighting cues because it is so complicated. Ironically, it is everyone around him that is dying, both in an actual and metaphorical manner.

His first marriage to Adele is falling apart. She is an artist whose paintings require magnifying glasses to view. In stark contrast, his art work is on the other extreme. She leaves him to live in Berlin with their daughter, though initially he is told this is only for a month’s period. They never come back. Time lurches forward. Cotard continues to attempt contact with both Adele and their daughter. He is hopeful, despite the time which has passed without his realising and without Adele’s contact. Meanwhile, a connection develops with Hazel who is the box office worker at the venue where DOAS is playing. Their relationship is awkward and Caden rejects Hazel because he claims to be married, though Hazel reveals how long it has been since his family has gone.

Caden attempts another relationship with an actress after Hazel has moved on. This is similarly caustic and they split. He attempts to reconnect with his daughter who is dying. She tells him to ask for forgiveness for having left her and when he agrees to this despite it appearing not to be true, she denies forgiveness and swiftly dies.

Caden gets an unlimited genius grant with which he buys a large warehouse within a warehouse and builds a replica of New York in it. Hazel loses her job and goes to work for Caden as his assistant. What begins as an endeavour that is meant to benefit the public through art morphs as Caden and Hazel recruit actors to play themselves mimicking their lives so that they might analyse and learn from it. Hazel and Caden develop a love interest after tens of years. Caden is becoming progressively more sick, apparently, and takes handfuls of different coloured pills and Hazel dies from smoke inhalation. She had chosen a house at the start of the film that was on fire, and this is apparently the consequence later on.

Caden is advised by an actress who looks astonishing like Adele’s older self to rest when he complains that he has no more ideas and tells him how to go about his life with an earpiece. Upon his return to the warehouse, it appears everyone is dead aside from an actress who is walking the streets. They share a moment together on the bench and the narrators last word is ‘Die’ as the screen fades to white.

Ultimately, this film brought me nothing but questions without answers. Was all of the film a consequence to the bump to his head he had got in the beginning? Was he really a homosexual and had created a world to escape his guilt for leaving his family? Was he a hypochondriac? Was the actress that played the cleaning lady really Adele after age had changed the contours of her face and her life had become not so fortunate? What was the point if there was one at all? When will Philip Seymour Hoffman be seen to be showering to suggest it had all been just a dream?

Time jumped awkwardly and it was unclear what was awake and what was a dream state because aside from the ordinary woes most humans face, such as clashing families and depression, none of it seemed to fit linearly. However, by the end none of that mattered. It was clear this film had a number of points to make, even if it did so in a roundabout way that could probably have been summed up in a five minute short. If it had done, however, I wouldn’t have had the virtue of being graced by the following epic quotes:

“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you’ll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out… Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved. And the truth is I’m so angry and the truth is I’m so fucking sad, and the truth is I’ve been so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long have been pretending I’m OK, just to get along, just for, I don’t know why, maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own, and their own is too overwhelming to allow them to listen to or care about mine. Well, fuck everybody. Amen. “

“Now it is waiting and nobody cares. And when you’re wait is over this room will still exist and it will continue to hold shoes and dress and boxes and maybe someday another waiting person. And maybe not. The room doesn’t care either.”

I’ve read the ‘Unbearable Lightness of Being’ so I appreciate the idea that we have consequences in life and only one chance to ‘play it out’. Additionally, regarding the quote about waiting, this is true also. We live knowing that our lives are temporary and that we will someday die, not knowing when that day will come. Whilst we try to fight it and try to truly believe we are different, as mortal beings it is like fighting the inevitable. Being brought up in the western society means death may be at your door but more often than not, it isn’t in your own house. You know of someone who knows of someone who has died, but if you compare the statistics to developing countries where people see dead bodies floating in waters a metre away, some of which are your brothers and sisters, comparatively death is a hushed subject in our society. We have potions and pills and an abundance of foods to give us time, and what time. There is so much in the universe and we are but a speck of dust, so in retrospect, the time we get isn’t much but since time is all we have it is nothing to be scoffed at.

I do enjoy films such as these because they allow me to question my mortality a little but, as you can see, they make me awfully pensive. Nonetheless, I’d encourage anyone to see this film who enjoys films that cause discussion, whether to get to the bottom of it all, or due to sheer confusion.

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