"Too Much Hopeless Sentiment, Murky Tedium, Unpleasant Digression, and Pretentious Confusion"
A black comedy, SYNECDOCHE [“Sih-NECK-doh-kee”], NEW YORK is another brain teaser from acclaimed writer Charlie Kaufman (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND). It starts off with some clever things but then lapses into episodic tedium and sometimes pretentious thoughts about life and death. The ending is so hopeless and depressing that it’s sure to put a huge dent in even the strongest pessimist’s day.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a theater director with health problems and a loveless marriage. Caden is attracted to Hazel, the perky redhead who runs the box office at Caden’s production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN, but he’s too timid to bring the affair to a climax, even though his wife suddenly decides not to take him with her and their young daughter on a tour with her own paintings to Germany. Hazel gets upset about this, especially when a year passes by without Caden’s wife and daughter returning and still Caden cannot begin a relationship with Hazel.
Caden gets a large “genius grant” from a foundation and decides to put on a huge magnum opus about his life in a large abandoned warehouse. As the years stretch by, Caden makes the production bigger and bigger. In fact, it actually becomes its own little city. Caden also marries his young female star while Hazel marries someone else.
Then, Hazel signs on as his assistant, everyone gets much older, spouses come and go, an older actor playing Caden becomes attracted to the older Hazel himself, Caden gets jealous, Caden’s daughter grows up overseas to become the lesbian lover of his ex-wife’s best friend, and on and on and on and on.
Slowly, of course, reality and fantasy begin to get confused. And, Caden ponders the depressing qualities of both life and death, including the problem of making a great but “brutally honest” work of art.
This movie’s worldview seems all over the place. Also, just when the movie begins to get interesting, whimsical and emotionally effective, it lapses into murky tedium, hopeless despair, oppressive depression, unpleasant digressions, and pretentious thoughts that may seem profound but really aren’t. We hate to be flippant, but don’t go see this movie if you don’t want to be driven to hopeless despair and thoughts of suicide. Finally, there is plenty of foul language, some strong sexual scenes and references, scatological elements, and images of explicit nudity in SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK.
Ultimately, despite some creative moments, the combination of all this somewhat pretentious mish-mash becomes just abhorrent. In fact, a brief, positive appeal to God in the midst of one death is virtually ignored. Making matters worse is that a priest at a funeral in Caden’s play performs a hopeless soliloquy about life and death with no reference to the comforts and joys that God or Jesus Christ, not to mention God’s Word, the Bible, can bring. The movie does, however, seem to have a negative view toward homosexuality, though this might be explained by loony liberals as the writer/director’s unconscious “sexist” antagonism against women, especially lesbian women.
Writer/director Kaufman clearly needs the infinite joy and profound poetry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his life. He also needs to use his gift for creating clever ideas in ways that are more inspiring and uplifting to the average moviegoer.
Synecdoche, by the way, is “a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage)” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, 1995). Thus, the movie several times makes the point that Caden’s life is just like the life of every other human being – they all end in the hopeless despair of terminal illness and death.
Of course, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ overcomes all death. This is such a joyous Good News message that the Apostle Paul proclaims in 1 Cor. 15:54-58 (quoting Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14): “‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
(PaPaPa, RoRo, HHH, AbAb, B, Ho, LLL, V, SS, NNN, A, DD, MM) Very strong, slightly mixed pretentious pagan worldview with strong pagan morality, strong Romantic elements and very strong nihilistic humanism often has a very strong hopeless tone, plus strong anti-religious scene in rehearsal of play where a Christian priest at a funeral gives a downbeat soliloquy about the hopeless quality of life but never mentions God, Jesus or the Bible, one positive written appeal to God that’s pretty much ignored by the characters though not by the camera (which may leave some viewers with unanswered questions), and man’s daughter is said to have had a lesbian relationship with her mother’s friend in her teenage and adult life when they lived overseas after mother separated from father but father thinks his daughter’s been exploited by the adult woman (liberal viewers may disagree and may think the father is “homophobic” but the adult woman is also a tattoo artist who apparently convinced the daughter to get massive tattoos during her younger teenage years and slandered her father, so the movie seems clearly opposed to homosexuality and pederasty/pedophilia); about 31 obscenities (including many “f” words), five strong profanities, eight light profanities, and some scatological moments such as man looks at his feces in toilet a couple times and urinates a couple times, plus man gets boils of some kind on his face and legs; some violence but no blood includes man commits suicide by jumping off building and next shot shows his body has made a hole in the pavement but the shot is shot strongly gruesome or gory, explosions are heard outside a building with people in it and images outside later show bodies strewn outside as if killed by something that remains unknown, plus several people die of natural deaths; depicted adulterous intercourse in one scene but man can’t go through with it, implied fornication, some other crude sexual references, references to protagonist’s daughter being taken advantage of by her mother’s friend and having a lesbian relationship with the older woman, but nothing is shown, and married man flirts with woman and two women flirt with married man; full frontal female nudity in impressionistic paintings that, however, leave little to the imagination, upper female nudity in a couple real life scenes and in paintings, rear female nudity once or twice, and upper male nudity; alcohol use; smoking and woman invites man to smoke marijuana with her but nothing is shown; and, younger female’s lesbian lover poisons her mind against her father and on her death bed female refuses to forgive her father even after she makes him apologize for things he did not really do, tattoos on young teenage girl in magazine photo and on adult woman, wife leaves husband and moves to Germany with 4-year-old daughter and best female friend, obsession, jealousy, hypochondria apparently results in real illnesses, and protagonist is morally conflicted but later has regrets for not cheating on his wife who eventually abandoned him anyway.
SYNECDOCHE [“Sih-NECK-doh-kee”], NEW YORK is a mind-bending black comedy about the life of a sickly theater director who goes through two troubled marriages and a life-long unrequited love affair. Caden Cotard’s first wife leaves him but he can’t decide what woman should replace her. Then, he gets a large grant to do whatever he wants. So, he begins production in a big warehouse on a large, improvised play about his own life. Slowly, reality and fantasy begin to merge. And, Caden ponders the depressing qualities of both life and death, including the problem of making a great but “brutally honest” work of art.
SYNECDOCHE [“Sih-NECK-doh-kee”], NEW YORK is another brain teaser from acclaimed writer Charlie Kaufman (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION). It starts off with some clever things but then lapses into episodic tedium and pretentious thoughts about life and death. The ending is so hopeless and depressing that it’s sure to put a huge dent in even the strongest pessimist’s day. The movie also contains plenty of foul language, some strong sexual references, scatological elements, and explicit nudity. Ultimately, this confused mish-mash just becomes abhorrently useless and often unpleasant.