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Pretentious, pompous and self-loathing (And that's just the review!!)
Synecdoche, New York (DVD)
Member Name: huggy2009
Synecdoche, New York (DVD)
Date: 26/05/10, updated on 27/05/10 (39 review reads)
Advantages: Clever, good script, great performances, worth watching lots of times
Disadvantages: Too smart at times and tries to hard, slow for some, unfathomable for others
Directed by Charlie Kauffman who has a loyal and keen following of fans from the films he has written such as 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind', 'Being John Malkovich' and 'Adaptation'. He also has an equally loyal set of people who laugh at the mention of his name and recall the story of the Emperors New Clothes.
I have to begin by admitting that I am an enormous fan of 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', I don't understand it all but I found it enormously romantic in a nihilistic way, I have to admit I liked 'Being John Malkovich' more for Spike Jonze quirky direction than for the script, and have tried to watch 'Adaptation' but it is way too clever for me and goes so far over my head it might as well be acted out in Latin by Gibbons dressed in Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture, I just didn't get it.
So I went into watching this film with trepidation, I received the DVD for Christmas and watched it (although I most enjoyed the extras because they were short and I have a short attention span and felt even I couldn't lose the plot over 19 minutes of chat about the film), however it has appeared on television tonight and I am watching it again, and am now so glad I own this DVD (The film has nearly finished and strangely enough its completely different to the last time I watched this, but I know how I want to view the ending and this is the kind of film that ends in your head rather than how it ends), it is something that tries lots of things and doesn't manage to achieve them all but its admirable for trying them and there is nothing wrong with clever cinema that seeks to challenge and allow the viewer to decide what they think is happening. These are my views during a second viewing where some of the prospects and ideas make a lot more sense.
The film follows Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Kaufman). It is presumed his character is named after Cotard'syndrome, a disease where a person wrongly feels they have lost organs, blood or body parts or can feel that they are actually dead/unreal. The use of this surname suggests that there is ambiguity from the beginning of the film over what is happening.
Cotard is an utter hypochondriac whose marriage to Adele Lack (Catherine Keener) a celebrated artist is in tatters, she admits to their psychiatrist that she wishes he were dead so that she can reinvent herself without his dreary lifeless form following her. She ups sticks and takes their daughter to Berlin, the daughter is a child who has inherited her fathers characteristics and doesn't believe she exists, in a state of constant paranoia.
Cotard is convinced he will die soon. Despite his success in Broadway as a director he finds that his life proves spectacularly unsuccessful and upon receiving a large sum of life insurance buys a huge warehouse in Schenectady a small district on the outskirts of New York and hires hundreds of actors to act out their lives within the warehouse, the story in its total is based on his life and experiences. Things become very confusing as Cotard employs actors to play characters in his life, however these actors become part of his life and thus he must employ more actors to play them, in essence the circle of life continues.
At every corner, Cotard searches for his daughter, who is being strangely influenced by a German woman, has to deal with the sneering presence of his ex-wife and a further ex-wife (Michelle Williams) who acts in his warehouse, and deal with his failure to live, to love and to accept himself or his life. He also meets a man who explains that he has stalked Cotard for 20 years in the realisation that he would play him within the warehouse. His acting is assured, honest and real, this raises further questions, who is he and what is the reason for his actions.
The film sprawls about like Cotard himself, it is weird and wonderful (in parts), we move from his time with his first wife, through his work in the warehouse and back to his other relationships with warehouse cast members, throughout it all, Cotard is a bleak and destructive influence on those around him, without love for himself, life or anyone (other than his daughter).
Will Cotard begin to understand that his narccism is controlling the lives of others, is he dying/dead/crazy, will he find his daughter/love or anything that makes him happy. Being honest you know from the onset that the only real answers you will find in this film are from your own interpretation of events. As Cotard loses his own reality in his warehouse of pretend a woman appears, Milicent Weems (Dianne Wiest) who could change his life.
Philip Seymour Hoffman ... Caden Cotard
Catherine Keener ... Adele Lack
Sadie Goldstein ... Olive (4 years old)
Tom Noonan ... Sammy Barnathan
Peter Friedman ... Emergency Room Doctor
Charles Techman ... Like Clockwork Patient
Josh Pais ... Dr. Eisenberg - Ophthalmologist
Daniel London ... Tom
Robert Seay ... David
Michelle Williams ... Claire Keen
Stephen Adly Guirgis ... Davis
Samantha Morton ... Hazel
Hope Davis ... Madeleine Gravis
Frank Girardeau ... Plumber
Jennifer Jason Leigh ... Maria
The cast is basically awesome, Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as Cotard a coiled, man-child filled with anxiety, hatred, anger, self-pity and genius, in later scenes with Sammy Barnathan (Tom Noonan) as the actor who has stalked Cotard, the scenes are uncomfortable but it is almost as though Barnathan is another part of Cotard's personality as he follows Cotard like a shadow, like an unlock part of his soul.
Catherine Keener is excellent as the honest and bored Adele, Michelle Williams is also top drawer as Claire Keen a woman who falls under Cotard's spell but begins to realise his levels of self-destruction. Samantha Morton is a constant in the film as the uber-fan Hazel, she is excellent a model of wide eyed delusion and love set against this sad sack man-child in Cotard.
I could go two ways here and gush about how wonderful this is as a self aggrandising statement of our own desire to immortalise ourselves, or I could be honest and say that for large parts of the film I didn't fully understand what was going on. I found the premise fantastic, it is really inventive and clever and I can appreciate how the parallels between Cotard's life and the warehouse begin to collide as a metaphor for how we live and how we perceive life, I think it's an intricate and thoughtful idea and definitely fits with the Kauffman ethic, however I'm not the brain of Britain and whilst I got quite a bit of what was going on, sometimes the necessity to be uncomfortable or different seemed to be more for show than substance.
The film is slow paced, but slow paced in a thoughtful way that allows you to try and ingest whats going on and make your own balloon animals from whatever comes out of your head, it is brilliantly written as it becomes a travail into the depths of human emotion and mental conflict, one man's mental health issues are another man's life.
The film gets so confusing at times as Cotard's wife complains to Cotard that her husband is touching her and her husband rejects this (both of them). As Cotard descends into chaos as his doppelganger acts out to his real wife that he is cheating, the film gets really weird.
Some of the things, like the flat that is constantly on fire or the discussions with the tattooed German woman are a tad twin peaks and the film moves about so much that confusion reigns and we start to get lost in the confusing, mental anguish of our protagonist (If he exists at all).
As we watch Cotard watching his life being played out, we wonder whether Cotard does exist or whether he is actually a euphemism for something more (or less), for me it is to do with a god complex from a man who doesn't believe he exists other than to observe, Cotard makes people do what he wants, controls how their environments and lives develop and is all seeing and all knowing, but from the prospect of a person who is self-depreciating, depressed and psychologically disturbed.
The relationship between Cotard and the women is interesting, but the relationship between Cotard and Sammy is really interesting as his doppelganger follows him, acts as he would without direction, but eventually becomes totally immersed in the sadness of being Cotard.
The character of Milicent Weems is incredibly interesting and adds a further dimension and a contrast to Sammy, she brings something new to Cotard and possibly his one chance for redemption.
I came away from the film wondering what it wanted to achieve, for me it made me appreciate that a life spent concentrating on introspection, self awareness, doubt and self-loathing makes for a dull play in a warehouse when I could be listening to Chico's greatest hits or reconstructing the destructive love of Ingmar Bergman or the Chuckle Brothers.
I do have to question how Philip Seymour Hoffman gets to sleep with Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson and Samantha Morton in one film, when he is a lardy, balding, speccy sadsack with a god complex.....still it gives hope to us all, I guess.
For me, i'll give this a 4 out of 5, because i've watched it twice and both times seen different things and got different end products, its a keeper and i'll watch it many more times as its like one of those massive role playing games that you keep coming back to with different endings or meanings depending on your mood when you watch it, its a keeper and a long player.
This is a thoughtful and challenging film, its not a classic by any means but it's a film that makes sense the more you think about it, it is well written, has a heart of sorts inside this patchwork quilt of insecurity, madness and introspection.
The films ends on a high (if thats how you want it to end), its possible to view this film so many ways, are some people willing to spend their lives following, being extras in someone else's story, doing as they are told or do they want to live and tell their own story? its thoughtful, melancholic but nonetheless life-affirming stuff.
It's sad, thoughtful, complicated, neurotic and challenging, its not as pretentious as people might tell you and it really might bring a tear to your eye if you give it a chance, its confused, confusing and deliberately so, but for me its a tale about mental illness a sense of not belonging in society and a desire to live ones life through others without feeling the pain of living it yourself, which must ring true with many of us, although not to this scale.
It's a really good film, It's not Iron Eagle 2, but then what is??
The DVD is available in the following outlets:
The 2 disc edition with loads of special extras is £5 on Play.com, the film is also £4.37 on Amazon.com
These are fairly meaty and really exciting for fans of the film or the director, there is a 19 minute documentary 'In and Around Synecdoche, New York' which talks with cast and director about making of the film, it is interesting to hear the varying ideas of what the film means to its major protagonists.
There is a Q&A with Charlie Kaufman where he discusses all of his films and his own career.
There is a documentary about infectious diseases to fit with the ethic of the film, as well as an interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman 'Story of Caden Cotard' where he talksabout making the film.
There are also a string of animations which formed the basis for the cartoons Caden Cotard sees regularly during the film on television.
Summary: It ain't Iron Eagle 2, but then hell, what is?