DVD RATING: B+ (Rent It)
“Everyone is everyone.” So says Ellen Bascomb (Diane Weist) in Charlie Kaufman’s oddly original Synecdoche, New York. Kaufman makes his directorial debut in this, the story of Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a tragically disconnected playwright who spends his dying days trying to discover the exact connection from which he is unplugged. Upon discovering that he is dying from an illness as mythical as the films narrative, Cotard makes it his life’s work to create a theatre piece that accurately portrays city life, and the connections and interactions that make that city. His recreation of New York takes up a massive warehouse where Cotard gradually builds literal walls around his players, boxing in the personal in an ongoing reproduction of everyday life.
Synecdoche is a term that refers to a part of a whole, and Synecdoche, New York does just that, it shows people playing their individual roles in the big picture of city life. The ambition of Cotards play becomes lost with the realization that “everyone is everyone,” and therefore its actors must play one another, playing one another, playing one another, playing…well, you get the point. True recreation creates the effect of looking into a mirror with a mirror behind you; the image of yourself becomes endless and infinite.
Kaufman is known for amazingly mind-bending screenplays like Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Synechdoche, New York, like his other films is a great achievement in narrative surrealism. At times the film wanders a bit too far into unnecessary oddness, but overall it works. The cast, including Hoffman, Weist, Michelle Williams, and Catherine Keener are great, and Kaufman’s direction really captures the swirling strangeness of their characters. It is impossible to truly and accurately describe this film, but remarkable in the different ways in which audiences interpret it. If indeed “everyone is everyone,” then deep down we can all understand the careening reality in which this films exists.