on 22 April 2014
First off, the film is incredible - no complaints there. It is a dense, sometimes alienating, but richly rewarding and personally affecting film. The acting and actors are all good, with the notable exception of Philip Seymour Hoffman... who shines above the rest with (what my now be seen as) a personal performance; almost animalistic in it vulnerability, but deeply human in its complexity. The production design is impressive, the visual effects are subtle, the direction is very solid. But the thing that make Synecdoche, New York a 5 Star film ("the best of the decade" according to Roger Ebert) is the screenplay. What Charlie Kaufman has achieved transcends the limitations of conventional cinema. The screenplay may not be the most romantic, entertaining or thrilling, but it is intricate, dense, and personally rewarding for those who want to delve into Kaufman's mind - surely one the greatest screenplays ever written. I have always thought to myself that if you don't like this film then you can count yourself as lucky, because that means you aren't as troubled, depressed and anxious as the people shown in this film.
The Extras on the Blu-ray are mostly substantial, but ultimately unrewarding for the films biggest fans (or skeptics).
In and Around Synecdoche, New York - goes into the production of the film, from the design, makeup, and effects.
The Story of Caden Cotard - an interview with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman about his character.
Infectious Diseases in Cattle - a bunch of "blogger" sit round a table for half-an-hour being discussing the film, flimsily covering there obvious lack of knowledge into the intricacy of the screenplay.
Script factory masterclass with Charlie Kaufman - a paradoxical lesson about writing from the writer who seems so against the idea of unoriginality in cinema writing.
Postage and Packaging is all good, got here (the UK from the US) is a reasonable amount of time, undamaged.
But the actual Blu-ray case is thinner than other Blu-rays I have, it is about 9 mm "deep" (I'm not sure if that is the right word, but I hope you get what I am saying), rather than the conventional 15mm "deep". Is this because it is from America, the land where the only things thin seem to be their paychecks and their blu-ray cases?
Overall, buy this blu-ray for the film if you are an incredibly troubled individual. If you don't worry about death, love, life, art, purpose or meaning then stay clear of this film.
Also I would recommend you watch all other Kaufman films first to get an idea of the themes and ideas at play in Synecdoche New York (Being John Malkovich, about art and existence, Adaptation, about the writing process and purpose, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, about Love, life and the mind).
This 2008 work written and directed (his directing debut, in fact) by Charlie Kaufman is quite an amazing watch. Of course, although this is a debut film we perhaps should not be surprised by Kaufman's level of ambition and aim of profundity given his previous writing credits for the likes of Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Here, he turns what begins as an intimate domestic drama centred on Philip Seymour Hoffman's frustrated and paranoid theatre director Caden Cotard, into a mind-blowing, expansive treatise on identity, mortality, time, love and (even) human existence that is complex, innovative and bordering on being something of a masterpiece.
In fact, my reason for awarding it only four stars is because I felt that Kaufman's level of ambition and the film's consequent complexity results in its narrative coherence (and character engagement) suffering (particularly during its middle third). Its initial third reminded me of Woody Allen's character part (Mickey Sachs) in Hannah And Her Sisters as Cotard's aspiring 'artist' becomes increasingly obsessed with his own mortality (reading the obituary columns, visits to the doctor, etc). Thereafter, during the second third, his failing marriage to Catherine Keener's Adele and developing relationship with Samantha Morton's box-office assistant Hazel, for me, the film began to lose its way slightly, whilst the final third, as Cotard secures funding for a 'theatre project' which he conceives as a play recreating his city (and life) in a massive warehouse (and spanning decades) is a brilliant and (literally) fantastic mixing of dream and reality.
Of course, his cast is superlative. I have not seen (the now sadly deceased) Hoffman more impressive in such a 'meaty' role, whilst his female cast contains some of the best actresses around currently. Samantha Morton is particularly good as the starry-eyed, flirtatious Hazel, Michelle Williams again impressive as actress Claire, Hope Davis something of a revelation as Caden's sinister analyst, Madeleine Gravis, Emily Watson again great in a (late) cameo as Tammy ('playing' Hazel in Cotard's play) and Keener solid as artist wife Adele - the only slight bit of mis-casting here is Jennifer Jason Leigh's eccentric Maria (with whom Adele `runs away' to Berlin). A final plaudit on the acting front to Tom Noonan as Caden's theatrical alter-ego, Sammy Barnathan (a much underused and typecast actor, since his turn in Michael Mann's Manhunter).
Synedoche, New York is not an easy watch, its scope and 'dimension' (spanning decades) is probably over-ambitious, but it is (for me) a thoughtful and increasingly powerful piece of cinema - a brief mention also for Jon Brion's soundtrack which adds to the film's growing emotive power. The film it most reminds me of (scope-wise) is Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece Magnolia and I am sure (like Anderson's film) Synedoche is a film whose stature will grow on repeat viewings.
on 29 July 2013
I've been reading that the film seems to have made more top ten or twenty list of film critics, probably than nearly any other film of the last ten years or so. Many film critics named it as their best film of that year.
Anyway, I started to write a quick review, just to say - what is this film doing in the comedy section? It's surely not anything of a comedy. (But I've gone on rambling away as usual, so skip after this paragraph, or put up with it!) Yes, you can find humour there, it can be perhaps the most pitch black, dark humour I've come across - no blood and guts and humour in disgusting acts, but in perhaps very depressing views on human life in the modern world.
But again, looking at what it is, what it really is, it is really nothing, nothing, of a comedy.
This is such a sad film, while it speaks of truths. Are we all just corporeal pieces of carbon and so on, used, robotically, by stage lines? Are we not real, but behaviourist based upon what theatricality some force beyond our hidden souls has spun onto our bodies to act out beyond choice or will?
I've seen it twice now, and it's really hard to watch, in my opinion. While I also love it, I think, but it's harder to me more than I love it. And I'd forgotten all about what it meant, just that I thought it was great first time around. I am not half as smart as I used to be when I first saw it, so I was really struggling this time around. First time I struggled also, though, but it was tough this time. High art can be tough. You want to listen to Steps? Listen to Steps! (I think I might need to after this, but, no, not Steps, though, something a bit more genuine.)
OK, it can be a really, really difficult film to watch.
And that's why I wonder about 4 stars rather than 5. At the end of everything, I wonder if it has to be a 5 star film, even purely because of the ambition and if it does not achieve everything of that ambition, it doesn't matter. As the ambition is so huge, such a noble enterprise, so central to life (no piece of art has been more important, I think, for such a long time) I guess I am kind of saying, "that's OK that you didn't quite make it to the film." And part of me thinks that's an accurate conclusion, the best conclusion, while another part of me thinks it's not at all.
The word synecdoche means a part of something stated to express the whole, from the greek meaning a part responsible for the whole (or vice versa). So, in the wry, postmodern film taking seriously this concept as to suggest how in the modern world many people live their lives, without their own inherent identity, only thinking they're in the mix, running around delivering their lines to cue, I must ask something. Wouldn't I then only be guilty of wishful synecdoche if I let the film go as great success, due mostly to its ambition and a really hard task, when it is lacking?
What is it lacking? Well, to be honest, in ways, in parts, it's a tiring film. It lacks variety, it lacks diversity, it lacks points of interest and form. The film takes it upon itself to show a modern human of the modern world, how bad things have become, where we celebrate the glory of some bland, ill-defined all (or a black-hole like nothing which is so impressive it is taken to be all) as if it were us. But doesn't "Synecdoche, New York" mostly leaves out the important parts, the vitality and beauty in uniqueness of real lives? Perhaps there are elements of this in the aliveness or sensuousness of the characters of Clare and Hazel, however little of truly unique, soulful spiritedness gets through. This may just be the point. (And perhaps the film wisely sees how bad things can be, in truth, on earth, where I am having a stupid, romanticised notion that seldom is true in modern reality.) Also, the makers may think this an irrelevant criticism, as the film is concerned with caricature, with simulacrum, perhaps showing how lives have become. But are lives really as boring, indistinct or lacking an absolutely unique, separate, personal soul and spirit as in this film?
Anyway, it's a really hard watch, especially earlier on in the film. But it is still a brilliant achievement. It is not perfect. The blueprint, perhaps, comes much closer to perfection. The script less close, but still closer than the film, which is certainly flawed as a motion picture. I feel the production lets down somewhat the grand, amazing idea, but it is still successful to notable degree and I salute the what is, anyway, still a rather amazing achievement. Even if that is significantly a relative judgement - partially made somewhat in surprise, in being taking out of watching within the quagmire of vastly inferior films out there.
One more thing. I have to say, some people think the film is touching. Maybe, maybe, there's just a little bit of touching there, I found, at certain points, but only the tiniest bit. More than touching, the film is so sad, as if unintelligibly disconsolate, beyond bleak, beyond help; it is biting, scathing, angry, self-loathing even, perhaps. But it seems to me to stop rather short of really being touching. It does not do that. I remember well following this closely the first time I watched - no, that would be a different land. There is little consolation in its vision, even in the "lines for lives" at the end. Yet, then, as at other times in the film, there is a kind of basic wisdom for coping, some advice, some example maybe. This in itself is a few drops of water to keep you from dying on a hard track of the film's concept, if you can see it from without. But I feel the film never really includes sympathy or consolation - it says these hard robots weren't really programmed for showing that to you. As the clock ticks on and on, faster and faster. That's what matters, it seems.
Profoundly damaging, perhaps. Very hard to deal with. Yet the vision is of what is the truth, if truth damages so be it, that it tries to be of the truth should change the harshness in damage, on one side of things. Brutally honest.