As I’m sat here I’m listening to Little Person, from the soundtrack to Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York. The song, like the film, resonates a great deal and resonates with me as a viewer on a deeply personal level, but I shan’t go in to detail on that. Instead, I’d like to examine this film on a level which is perhaps more philosophical than I’d normally talk about, and maybe this will get a bit personal. Not sure, but please bear with me.
I have not seen the film in a fair few months, but it grows more in stature to me as time goes on. As a bit of a newbie Kaufman fan (I’m beginning to see him as the finest writer modern film currently has) I’m incredible impressed by the way it constantly works its way into my mind, allowing me to find a retrospective reason to pick over the film varying on my situation. As a fresher in university, the song Little Person written by Jon Brion for the film describes that stereotypical search for new people to enjoy this chapter in my life, but the compelling argument versus being a solipsistic, self-centred person shown by Caden Cotard’s arc in the film is clearer. It is a film that says we are all unimportant, really. But, we are representative of a collective humanity, each person being a synecdoche of us as the human race. That, to me, is spot on: the film has unconsciously opened my eyes to the individuals in my life… we are all the main characters in our own narratives, and that is brilliant.
It has also shown me that cinema can deeply reflect the viewer’s thoughts. I remarked to a friend that due to a certain scene, wherein Caden inspects his stool and finds blood, I was unlikely to watch it again. I am a serious hypochondriac. That scene will stick with me for many years, as it showed me that what I was going through was not unique to me, and that many people share these fears and neuroses. The film, in that sense, improved me as a person. I took resolve to not be that person who was always finding the worst possible outcome. Funny how one of the most profoundly saddening films I have ever seen gave me a more positive outlook on life, isn’t it?
So that’s a short few words on Synecdoche, New York, perhaps the greatest film I have ever seen… It is a true rarity in its grandiose scale, yet still manages to create these personal connections.
Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is a five-star hard sell. Its subjects are loneliness and failure. It’s a funny comedy surrounded by death. I was confused, affected, haunted and still wanting to see it again. That’s the power of this postmodern masterpiece (though, to debate postmodernism now would be a feat that takes this whole blog to truly answer, so… I’ll leave that be).
Kaufman’s work will always explore the human condition through dancing the wit and portraying everything with abandon. Synecdoche is more subtle, in my view, but it’s still hella off the wall! Here exists an improvisational theatre in a Manhattan warehouse with a twist: it intends to recreate everything lived, and that’s as exhausting as you’d imagine.
This is Kaufman’s intentionally making a joke at his own expense, no? What if a wizard of drama could possibly conjure theatre so implausible and damning to its spectators that it’s ultimately unwatchable? Furthermore, what if Caden’s life was a wreck, not of the destroyed kind but just a lump in the throat you cannot shake? The resulting examination is unflinchingly honest and representative of the hell people live through, and it never misses a beat.
I’ll praise Hoffman here. He gives his all to making us as broken and old-feeling as his character is by the denouement.
Kaufman’s film soars sky-high with such a performance turn, organically expressed and testy to its other cast members (Samantha Morton, Emily Watson and Dianne Wiest, all superb).
It dazzles but not in the wonderland-like-way that my five-star films often do. The tools for gritty grimness are all there waiting to be picked up in Synecdoche New York. I’d say Kaufman saw them, took them and used them in the most subversive way possible.
And it left me reeling.