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Synecdoche New York
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Synecdoche, New York – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

After completing a successful play, theatre director Caden Cotard (Hoffman) loses grip over his life; his wife Adele (Keener) leaves him and takes their daughter Olive (Goldstein) with her to Berlin to pursue her painting career; mysterious illnesses weaken him and a new relationship with the alluringly candid Hazel (Morton) prematurely runs aground.

Lonely and desperate, he seeks help from his therapist, Madeleine Gravis (Davis), who was better at selling him her best-seller than counselling him.

Just as he is about to succumb to his misery, he is granted an award. Thrilled, he decides to use his windfall to mount the biggest play ever.

He ensembles his actors in a warehouse in New York and instructs each to live out their constructed life in a growing mockup of the city outside. He also hires an actor, Sammy (Noonan) to play him and hires other actresses to play the women around him.

As the play grows beyond control with thousands of extras and a huge set, Cotard’s life continues to disintegrate.

His uncontainable obsession with Adele and Olive prevents him from forming new relationships with other women.

His daughter Olive dies, then his parents follow, as his health continues to worsen.

Soon the textured tangle of real and theatrical relationships blurs the line between the world of the play and that of Caden’s own deteriorating reality and inevitably he loses control of both.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

This is one of the most emotionally profound and thought provoking movies of the year. It deals with loneliness, illness, human relationships, separation, metaphysics and death.

It is a convoluted and sometimes confusing story that paddles between different spaces and times and blurs the barriers between reality and fiction. To add another layer of complexity, some characters grow older in time and others don’t.

The complexity of the film reflects Cotard’s complicated life. He tries to fathom his life by staging it in a play, but the deeper he digs the more convoluted his life and the play become, and eventually he loses control over both; his real life and his fictional play.

In one scene Cotard looks at the glinting windows on a New York night and says “There are no extras, every one in this city is a lead in their own story”. Indeed, if you look closer, you will find that each one of us has a complex life, and we all endure similar emotional and physical hardships that could easily fill Cotard’s colossal stage. Unlike Cotard, most of us, however, choose not to dwell on it, stifle the pain and move on.

Many questions are raised in this film: how do we deal with separation, loss and loneliness? How do we combat incapacitating illnesses and conquer the fear of death? How do we love and form relationships? And how can we attain contentment? Questions that trouble many of us, and hence we easily empathise with Cotard as he rides an emotional rollercoaster in desperate attempts to find answers. The problem is, the more he seeks fulfilling answers the more agonising questions emerge. He continues to miss opportunities, moments and connections, consequently perpetuating his unbearable grief.

The film is dark and tragic but not short of comic moments. Actually, there are scenes that evoke laughter and tears at the same time. In one scene, a crying Cotard sits at his dying daughter’s bedside as she demands that he confesses to abandoning her because he is a gay and wanted to be with Eric – the fact is: he is not a gay and he doesn’t know anyone by the name of Eric. Nevertheless, reluctantly, he obliges.

Philip Seymour Hoffman smoulders into Cotard’s character. His magic performance is riveting. Even if you won’t understand the movie–and most likely you won’t- you will enjoy watching him taking on a thrilling, emotional ride. The rest of the cast also deliver outstanding performances. Samantha Morton and Emily Watson are a joy to watch as their jovial characters inject some needed brightness in the stark darkness of this story.

This is undoubtedly a work of genius that will live inside you for a while. Having said that, it will be challenging to watch and comprehend and will require a second viewing and perhaps a third, for only then you will be able to admire and appreciate such a masterpiece.

Opens Nationwide 15 May 2009

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