Movie review: Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Synecdoche, New York is not your typical movie. But then again the writer is not your typical writer. (Charlie Kaufman was behind Being John Malkovich, which I found to be very odd.)

I had trouble following what was real and what wasn’t. At least it seemed like some things weren’t real but were a figment of the actor’s imagination or fantasy life. In hindsight, all the snippets in the movie were probably real.

The movie is a study of a life. The life of a theater director, Caden Cotard. Who creates a play that is a study of his life. A play that is in development for decades. With dozens and dozens and dozens of actors. And entire sections of the city built as stage sets inside a mammoth warehouse.

Through this decades-long production of a play about his life, he came to finally understand his life. Right at the end. All his life he was trying to stage a production about it rather than live it. At one point he asks, “Tell me what to do.” The response he receives, “Everyone has to figure out their own life.”

From the start of the movie, he was dying. Struck with seemingly odd physical ailments that never seemed to be diagnosed. He was simply dying. Yet he continued to live out a full like. A metaphor for him being dead to his life and never really living? A metaphor for us being dead to our lives and never really living? Perhaps.

Caden’s life revolves around four different women: His first wife, his first daughter, a woman at the box office that he became briefly involved with but then worked intimately with for decades, and his second wife who was a long-suffering actress in his production about his life.

The movie is bizarre. Ultimately sad. Relationships broken. Opportunities lost. Of a life not really lived. What did he want out of it all except maybe to be with his daughter who was taken from him and raised in Germany? Synecdoche, New York is an odd and twisted movie. Weird things happen that everyone seems to think are perfectly normal.

Perhaps these are the messages from the movie: Live your life before it is too late. We are always dying. And weirdness abounds.


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