Synecdoche, New York

    Nowadays, a celebrity-turned-director is enough to make me cringe. A red flag pops up. Okay, I think, this is going to be a piece of you-know-what.      But there’s an exception to every rule.      Charlie Kaufman has become a writing tour de force in cinema for his bizarre, intricately woven stories that take everything you thought you knew about reality and linear plot lines, and smacks it upside the head. He destroys conventions, invents new ones, blatantly disregards reality, and somehow ends it all with a surprisingly poignant examination of love, humanity, and all that other junk filling the corners of this tragicomedy called life.      The first film that really shot Kaufman into the public eye – a considerably rare feat for screenwriters – was 1999’s fantastic and imaginative Being John Malkovich, directed by fellow cinematic absurdist, Spike Jonze. In 2002, the film Adaptation – also directed by Jonze – won him a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay, and in 2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the wildly hip and successful mis-fitted story of memory, mistakes, and love, gained him an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.       But Kaufman steps into the director’s shoes, with his film Synecdoche, New York, a film Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called “exhilarating and exasperating in equal doses” and something you don’t find at multiplexes overrun with Chihuahuas and violent escapism… Kaufman,” he says, “wants to prove that intellectual ambition isn’t dead at the movies. Godspeed.”       Anyone who has seen previous Kaufman films – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Human Nature – knows the chaos of the Kaufman diegetic. Synecdoche is no different. The film chronicles the life and various incredibly unfortunate events of the wildly depressed, indisputably pathetic Caden Cotard. After his wife and daughter leave on a trip and never come back, becoming an outrageously celebrated artist in Berlin and a tattooed ten-year-old girl – respectively – Cotard’s hypochondria and maniacal obsession with a new idea for a play spins into a more and more twisted mass of bitter memories, pitiful insecurities, and burning shames.       Cotard’s play, which is a reflection of Kaufman’s penchant for sardonic metafiction, attempts to be an imitation of the ‘real’ Schenectady, New York. He aims to have an actor for every person, acting out exactly what every person in Schenectady is doing – hence the ‘synecdoche’ of the title, a literary device that is a small part representing the whole.       Synecdoche is long – that much is true. It’s long, depressing, and has no characters you’d want to be, admire, or even probably hang out with, but with Kaufman it is not about the catharsis of the happy ending, but the craft and art of his writing. His masterful use of symbolism, and manipulation of time and events creates an underlying layer of meaning and depth that makes this one of the most intense, poignant, and complex films this generation has ever seen. There are times when you squirm, when the film seems like it will never end, and when you want to close your eyes with embarrassment and disgust for the characters; just like, incidentally, reality. But within Kaufman’s tragicomedy debut film is truth at its most sour-sweet – a true representation of the disappointments of life, the patheticness of man, and the disappointment, the failures, the sorrows, that occur when it all ends – not with that proverbial bang; but with a decidedly dissatisfied whimper.