21.11.08

Synecdoche NY, Continente, contenido


In Kaufman's film, instead of one block of flats, we have all of New York replicated in a warehouse in New York. This in turn is replicated within another, even bigger warehouse. This vast set-within-a-set explains the film's staggering $20m budget. Kaufman explains here that an exact replica of New York City would also have to occupy the same amount of space as New York City and there's a pleasingly direct echo here of the one-paragraph Borges tale in which a map is made of an empire "whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it."

This is also the tale with which Baudrillard begins his essay on simulacra. But a purely mental wrangling with simulacra et al is not nearly as pleasurable as experiencing that concept made visual (if not "real") in Kaufman's dizzying shots of city-within-city and warehouse-within-warehouse. His version has, in every sense of the word, greater scope.

From The Guardian, U.K.

books blog, The ultimate postmodern novel is a film

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Part dream, part puzzle, part brainteaser, the dazzling directorial debut from award-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman stars the inimitable Philip Seymour Hoffman as a theatre director who turns his every living moment into a play.

Hoffman plays Caden, whose problems include a failing marriage to Adele (Catherine Keener) and a career that is heading downhill fast. When Adele leaves him to pursue her own art career in Berlin, Caden throws himself into his new Broadway show. He creates a synecdoche of his life, in which a part stands for the whole. The film's narrative begins in Schenectady, New York, and the play between the two words is just one of countless ludic details that spring forth like sparks in this film.

As Caden attempts to fill his domestic void with dramatic recreations, he casts a lanky actor (Tom Noonan) as a near doppelgänger, a beautiful actress (Michelle Williams) as his wife and a quirky look-alike (Emily Watson) as his love interest, who in real life is an even quirkier box-office attendant named Hazel (Samantha Morton). As the players attempt to reproduce the goings-on in Caden's life at a 1:1 ratio, complications multiply. The real and the simulacrum start literally talking to one another, and Caden becomes both puppeteer and puppet on his own stage.

Hoffman is brilliant, embodying Caden's assorted neuroses and illnesses in heartbreaking detail. Kaufman, who has already demonstrated his genius for narrative play in the scripts for Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directs the story to more sober, ambitious territory here. There are ample moments of comic hysteria – Hazel's house is both poetically and literally on fire for much of the film – but ultimately this is a tale about all the big subjects: life, death, love and art. Though it begins with the clever conceit of art imitating life to an absurd degree, Synecdoche, New York rises to a symphonic level of philosophical reflection. This is the work of a major artist, and must be contended with as such.

Cameron Bailey


Charlie KaufmanCharlie Kaufman was born in New York City and studied film at New York University. He has written several award-winning screenplays, including Being John Malkovich (99), Human Nature (01), Adaptation (02), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (02) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (04). Synecdoche, New York (08) is his directorial debut.

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