Sunday, August 23, 2009

A review within a review

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

I have managed to not see any Charlie Kaufman-written movies. That all changed last night; I am a "Charlie Kaufman virgin" no longer. And based on Syndecdoche, NY, I will NEVER watch another Charlie Kaufman film ever again.

What a totally confusing, boring, utterly pretentious piece of nonsense. Philip Seymour Hoffman cranks his uber-sad sack routine beyond 11 as Caden Cotard, a noted stage director whose marriage, life, and body are falling apart. His wife, Catherine Keener takes their four year old daughter Olive with her to Germany. Things get very, very, very weird after that.

Now I enjoy metaphors, themes and layers in a film as much as the next person. But with what Kaufman has put forward you need a PhD in psychiatry - make that two PhD's - a few medical texts, a degree in dream interpretation, and an expert in Jungian theory to begin to understand the least little thing. This is an "art house movie" of the absolute worst kind. For example, according to Wikipedia "Cotard" refers to Cotard Syndrome a "neuropsychiatric condition where a person believes they are dead, do not exist, are putrefying, or losing blood or organs." Hoffman's pee and stool are both filled with blood, he gets pustules growing on his face; he's falling apart mentally, physically and spiritually. But is he truly ill, or does he merely BELIEVE he's sick? Is it all in his head?

After Hoffman is given a huge grant to stage his ultimate play, his real life, such as it is, begins to blur with what's on stage. He finds a giant airplane hanger of a warehouse and basically recreates his current existence, even constructing entire streets, buildings and apartments, and casting actors to play the people in his life, including himself.

His girlfriend, the box office girl played by Samantha Morton buys a house that is perpetually on fire. It's funny at first then just downright maddening as we come back to it several times and it's still smouldering away. The movie plays loose with time and space. At the very beginning, Hoffman's having breakfast and reading a newspaper dated November 2005, but a wall calendar directly behind him displays March 2006. He has a TV from the late 1970s with a pair of knobs on it but he uses a remote control, and later a cell phone. After his wife and daughter move to Berlin, he states it's been a few months but someone tells him its been 17 years. Tom Noonan first pops up standing behind a tree in the park; he tells Hoffman he's been following him around for 20 years. Why? Who cares, it's a wacky dream, everyone! Hoffman casts Noonan as Cotard in his play. It's all very surreal, confounding, confusing, slow and (a movie's ultimate sin) boring. I cared not one iota for Cotard (his character didn't seem to care, so why should I?). In the last ten minutes, I actually got up to use the bathroom and said, "Do NOT hit the pause button. Keep it running." I could not STAND the thought of coming back from the bathroom and having to sit through anymore of this goddamn movie. I have NEVER done that before.

This movie attempts to infect viewers with Cotard Syndrome or worse. You couldn't pay me enough to sit through it again. DO. NOT. WATCH.


  1. If you loved Synecdoche then you'll LOVE Being John Malkovich!

  2. I would rather take up cutting myself with a straight razor than to ever have to sit through another pretentious Charlie Kaufman "what is reality" bullshit movie.

    Remember how a huge faction of The Matrix audiences were seeing all the "layers" to that story? I think they went a bit overboard, but at the very least, the first - and perhaps the second - movie entertained you on other levels (visually, the action, the effects). It wasn't ONLY about the "layers."