Charlie Kaufman is a genius of unparalleled proportions, creating inventive concepts that have been influential in the new originality in modern movies. This is an undeniable truth, considering Kaufman has written “Being John Malkovich,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “Adaptation,” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” all of which have made an enormous impact on the American film industry in various ways. After watching “Synecdoche, New York,” it appears as if the directors of those films should have received more credit for channeling the vast ideas parading around Kaufman’s mind into cohesive and discernable piece of art.
The film tells the convoluted story of Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a talented theatre director whose personal life delves into chaos just as he receives the prestigious MacArthur grant. He quickly decides to use his newly found income for an enormous theatre production with actors playing real people, including Caden. It is meant to be an intricate examination into human experience but soon dissolves into an obsession that consumes and controls Caden’s entire life.
Although it would be wonderful to give a more precise description of the story line, the rest of the film is often difficult to comprehend, consisting of distractions that are meant to be profound but often seemed hollow and uninspiring. It is understandable why many view the film as a masterpiece, maybe because they felt the symbolism expressed was a potent reminder of the fragility of life. However, the images often communicated a heavy handed and uninspiring sense of false insight.
It appears as if Kaufman made this film for himself, and he probably still believes it is a searing exploration into the depths of human morality because of his alternate way of thinking. Does that mean that his intelligence exceeds mine to an extent that I cannot understand the ideas he is intends to depict? Possibly, but part of being an exceptional filmmaker is the ability to portray your intended message into something the audience can decipher. Overall, Kaufman’s greatest failure is the same as his main character, both of whom have the inability to make correct story decisions to make the film continuously compelling.
“Synecdoche, New York” has moments of brilliance overwhelmed by long stretches of incoherence. It is not a bad film, but rather a peculiar, uneven and unfocused one. “Synecdoche, New York” is an original experience that will not be easily forgotten, but nonetheless fails in powerfully assessing the insignificance of a singular human life.