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The Mass Media

How to Pronounce Synecdoche, New York

I’m not the biggest fan of summer blockbusters. I find that they’re eye-candy with nothing in essence worth looking in to. Like the most expensive empty refrigerator. I tend to love action movies not because of the stunts and explosions, but because of the immensely human tale the movie has to tell. For that reason I believe that The Dark Knight is the best American movie of the year – whereas I believe that Hancock, Transformers, and Pirates 3 were some of the worst films to come out this decade.

The problem is perhaps with the relationship among the screenwriter and the director and producers of a film. Screenwriting is notoriously regarded as the stray mutt of the filmmaking world, and receives little respect from Hollywood moneymakers. The Dark Knight excelled because the director and his brother penned the film, so that the writing could remain reliable and not unjustly altered – unlike Transformers, whose writing I imagine was butchered by the disaster that is Michael Bay.

Charlie Kaufman doesn’t encounter these problems. He is regarded as the only truly notable screenwriter of this period – writing such films as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He’s worked on those films with the directors Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, directors that he says don’t stray from his material without consulting Kaufman first. These are professionals that respect the screenwriter. I think that the results speak for themselves of this unusual practice.

Synecdoche, New York is Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut. It’s about as zany as his previous scripts, and holds a style that feels uniquely his. But it is a movie worthy of high praise, like a modest refrigerator packed with exotic food. It’s a metaphysical movie about a play that emulates the real world in real time and in a life size replica of New York City. The idea is immense, but it really gets its solids from the human story of Caden Cotard, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I could watch the Phil-man walk around for an hour and still be fascinated. He’s great as always, portraying the screen psyche of the neurotic screenwriter/director. He’s tragic as his world falls apart through divorces and the malignant growth of his monumental and self-destructive theater.

There’s so much about this movie that is interesting – certainly a movie worth watching. However, it’s not a movie that I’d recommend to anyone. It’s very abstract, surreal – a Kafka neurosis. It’s not a summer blockbuster; it’s a film with a plot so absurd that Kaufman struggled to find a producer. If you don’t like art films, you (a) are probably not reading this review, and (b) shouldn’t see this movie.

Synecdoche, New York is a film that will be studied years from now. Kaufman will go down in history as one of the strongest filmmakers of all-time. But, for now, Kaufman will remain below the notoriety he truly deserves.

Oh yeah, and it’s pronounced “si-nek-duh-kee.”