Some Thoughts on Synecdoche, New York

One of the rare plea­sures I had as a video store clerk was being able to enjoy how cus­tomers respond­ed to Char­lie Kauf­man’s work. One such cus­tomer was even eager to check out Don­ald’s stuff after watch­ing Adap­ta­tion! For me, Kauf­man’s scripts were love let­ters to out­siders of all shapes and sizes, for whom the pur­suit of a “nor­mal” life presents a tremen­dous chal­lenge. Yet even when some degree of nor­mal­i­ty is obtained or accep­tance achieved, his pro­tag­o­nists remain just out of step with their peers.

Caden Cotard, the man at the cen­ter of Synec­doche, New York, is no excep­tion. I spent some time read­ing Film­brain’s excel­lent two-part review (part 1, part 2), but felt that Char­lie Kauf­man’s motifs remain the same. In Synec­doche, he con­tin­ues to play with time and space, leav­ing it up to Cotard to rec­on­cile his place with­in them, while strug­gling with infir­mi­ty and inse­cu­ri­ty. Synec­doche, New York finds Kauf­man address­ing the cre­ative process in a way he has­n’t since Char­lie drove him­self to dis­trac­tion in Adap­ta­tion.

It’s hard to say very much about Synec­doche, New York. I was com­plete­ly mes­mer­ized by the sto­ry and the per­for­mances, with­out much more than a pass­ing thought for where the plot might lead. I found it spell­bind­ing. I was com­plete­ly engrossed in the char­ac­ters and what they might do next. Does that make me one of Armond White’s “fash­ion sheep?” Maybe. Do I care? No.

Why? Because part of the joy in see­ing movies made by writ­ers and direc­tors like Kauf­man, Gondry, Ander­son, Reichardt, and oth­ers is that they feel like our movies. Their actors feel like our actors.To me, this cin­e­ma is Gen­er­a­tion X com­ing to grips with a world it has­n’t shaped in any mean­ing­ful way, reflect­ed in Cotard walling him­self off from the war-torn real­i­ty that exists out­side his “the­ater of the real.” There’s an over­whelm­ing sense of inad­e­qua­cy and impo­tence that per­me­ates the movie, and those are two sen­ti­ments that could be applied to Gen­er­a­tion X if you ask me.

This is the sort of movie I’ll come back to again and again. It’s the sort of movie I’d love to see released in a spe­cial edi­tion three-disc set, com­plete with notes and inter­views and doc­u­men­tary footage. There’s no chance that it’ll receive such lav­ish atten­tion when it comes out on DVD, but one can dream.