Synecdoche, New York opens with a scene of finely observed domestic squalor. A suburban home rouses itself for the day. A middle-aged man declares “I don’t feel well” before sitting down to breakfast. His wife futzes around the house, the mask of a day’s worth of worries already pasted on her face. Their little daughter finishes on the potty and asks “Is there something wrong with my poop?” as mom wipes her clean. The mundaneness is laced with disquiet, even menace. The accretion of the banal—ticking clocks, milk expiration dates, a persistent cough, bird flu in the newspaper—amounts to something of a premonition. As he brushes his teeth, the man hears the pipes convulse—and gets nailed in the head by shrapnel as the sink bursts into pieces. The morning ends as it should: in blood, amid screams.
Lest that eruption mislead you, Synecdoche, New York is not actually violent. Intimations of mortality abound, but the film is too paralyzed with depression to ever swerve into sadism. It may open with blood, but the movie ends with a serene command—a whispered “Die”—and a fade to white. In between those bookends is a wallow in morbidity that is by turns affecting and exasperating, but never pedestrian.
Click here to read the rest of Elbert Ventura’s review of Synecdoche, New York.
Staring into the abyss through a kaleidoscope, Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York sees ecstatic, innumerable facets in the depths. Another of Kaufman’s Alice in Wonderland narratives, his first directorial effort is more gnarled and coiled than his scripts for Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) and Michel Gondry (Human Nature, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), yet also more emotionally direct. Impossible to fully grasp on first pass, the film nevertheless has a rigorous — and perversely funny — through-line of extreme anxiety and sorrow. “I won’t accept anything but the brutal truth,” says his protagonist, theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman). “Brutal, brutal,” he repeats, hammering home the cliched, self-conscious overstatement, but he means it every time.
A queasy passage through one man’s warped perspective, the film rests on Hoffman’s sad-sack sincerity to justify and motivate its dream logic of hyperbole and deadpan implausibility. The latest installment in a thick back catalogue of lonely blubberers, Caden is Hoffman’s most complex and moving creation — a man burdened by infinite layers of arrogance and disgrace.
Click here to read the rest of Eric Hynes’s review of Synecdoche, New York.