There are unconventional stories that audiences are not used to, which find the perfect way to portray the comedy/drama of humanity through the absurd, like this 2008 movie, Synecdoche, New York.
It all revolves around the character of Caden Cotard, a theater director in existential crisis who lives in the small town of Schenectady, precisely in upstate New York.
His marriage to painter Adele Lack drags on without love or passion, and the only thing still seeming to hold them together is their young daughter Olive.
Moreover, the man continually has strange illnesses and goes through endless doctors and specialist examinations, putting on him the anxiety of being on the verge of death.
As the final blow, his wife leaves for Berlin for an art exhibition and never returns, starting a new life away from him with the daughter she took.
Upset, the director decides to use the rich MacArthur Fellowship he has won to stage an immense work about his life, making a huge set where he reconstructs the entire New York City.
This work becomes so long and complex that it continues for over twenty years. During this time, he marries one of his actresses, Claire, and together they have another daughter.
Meanwhile, little Olive has grown up to become a famous dancer who has made her own body a work of art covered with tattoos, although one of these kills her with a terrible infection.
This trauma and other events mingle in the endless plot Caden is writing, now unable to distinguish reality from the fiction he himself is creating.
However, despite all the pain and chaotic, primal confusion in his life, in the end, even this man may find peace if he surrenders to the inevitable truth that he cannot control fate.
The chaotic madness of life
Personally, I would place 2008’s Synecdoche, New York, almost in the fantasy movie category, given the dreamlike and surreal nature of the plot and the absurd theater/city setting.
Viewing this work is a unique and personal experience for each of you, immersing in this narrative with your individual perception derived from your interpretation of the symbolism and themes addressed.
The narrative, although pervaded by continuous dialogue, yet, paradoxically, the story remains only partially revealed, leaving interpretation to the viewer’s discretion, as none of the characters ever explicitly clarifies what is really going on.
I confess that I am no expert on Charlie Kaufman, the director, with my knowledge limited to the fact that he was the creator of such extraordinary screenplays as those of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich.
These unique works reveal his ability to write unusual and provocative plots.
Equally striking is how the protagonists of his stories are constantly plunged into a spiral of unhappiness and depression; yet, despite this gloomy atmosphere, Kaufman’s plots are strangely enlightening and optimistic, a contrast that adds an extra layer of complexity to his interpretation.
There is an obvious short-circuit between visual image and narrative in Kaufman’s works. We cannot fully decipher or explain this phenomenon, but it remains there, palpable, challenging our understanding and offering us a unique and unforgettable cinematic experience.
Indeed, the staging, locations, and costumes have a realistic feel, while from a certain point on, these stories take flight as if Kaufman removes the shackles from the wings of his imagination.
This willingness to go against the standards and demands of the general public makes it unmissable to lovers of true cinema, such as yours truly, who have seen it four times so far, having four distinctly different experiences.
A Symphony of Love and Artistry
As a movie that takes much from the dramatic style of the theatrical world, the cast of Synecdoche, New York, features some of the best actors and actresses of 2008.
Surprisingly, the character played masterfully by Philip Seymour Hoffman, the undisputed protagonist of this dreamy castle, appears extremely fragile and ill. Yet, he survives most of the people he cares about by witnessing their demise one after another.
Even in the moments of greatest despair and grief, his extraordinary performance put the viewer at ease as if he were in the company of an unfortunate old friend.
Unable to find and maintain a stable path in his own existence, this weak man never gives up on pursuing his ambitious and colossal work.
Through this enormous theater, shaping and influencing the lives of the other main characters, he manages to insert into the script an essence of their thoughts, emotions, and reflections regarding universal themes such as love, old age, guilt, and forgiveness.
Although characterized by numerous physical and psychological weaknesses, Hoffman’s character demonstrates an astonishing tenacity in completing his artistic project, thus revealing a hidden inner strength.
In doing so, he stages a work that embraces and explores the complex nuances of human nature, mixing and weaving the characters’ fates into a mosaic of emotions and situations that reflect the depth and complexity of life itself.
A crucial role is played by prominent female figures, such as the actress played by Michelle Williams and Samantha Morton, who become the protagonist’s creative inspiration and also develop emotional bonds with him.
However, Caden’s relationships do not stop with these two women. Also, the protagonist’s wife and her lying friend, played by Catherine Keener and Jennifer Jason Leigh, create tension and conflict that profoundly influence the protagonist’s path.