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Synecdoche, New York

A 2008 film written and directed by Charlie Kaufman.

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Synecdoche, New York: Gödel at the movies?

  • Mar 15, 2009
  • by
Ultimately, paranoia got the better of the famous 20th-century philosopher Kurt Gödel (1906-1978): He starved himself to death. Gödel once said:

"Don't collect data. If you know everything about yourself, you know everything. There is no use burdening yourself with a lot of data. Once you understand yourself, you understand human nature and then the rest follows."

In Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York," lead character Caden Cotard is starved for attention and seeking ever more self knowledge. Alas, Caden seems to be struggling with his "human nature" studies. Sammy Barnathan, a "Synecdoche" character/actor who plays Caden (who is played by wonderfully afflicted Philip Seymour Hoffman), says to Caden (who is also the director of the sprawling play in which Sammy appears):

"I've watched you forever, Caden, but you've never really looked at anyone other than yourself. So watch me. Watch my heart break. Watch me jump. Watch me learn that after death there's nothing. There's no more watching. There's no more following. No love."

Gödel was an admirer of Plato. In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, the non-philosophers of the world are depicted as prisoners chained and blinkered in a posture that forces them to look exclusively at the back wall of the cave in which they are confined. The hapless chainees can see only the shadows cast by puppets representing plants, animals, and the other objects that seem to constitute the universe in which they live. The enormous fire that provides the shadows' source light is so inaccessible to the commoner that even it's very existence operates beyond the realm of their imaginations. In Plato's nightmare scenario, only the shadows are given creedence.

In "Synecdoche," the MacArthur Foundation gives Caden a chance to break free from the shackles and, perhaps, directly confront the roaring flame and twittering universe of Platonic/artistic/social Reality. Instead, Caden uses the latest in modern theatrical technology to add shadows to the shadows. Caves are constructed within caves. Caden can't handle the truth.

Gödel did not believe that "time" is a fundamental physical attribute.

Kaufman's notion of time may be severely limited by the mechanics of modern motion-picture projection. But even facing such constraints, Charlie can still work the clock in very clever ways.

Pundits have labeled this flick "tragicomic." The balance, however, between "tragi" and "comic" tilts considerably toward the former. If you're seeking a TGIF laff riot, "Synecdoche" is almost certainly not for you. But if you want to provide fodder for a heavy-duty, post-screening discussion, look no further.

Gödel once said:

"When an extremely improbable situation arises, we are entitled to draw large conclusions from it."

I'm stunned that this movie was ever given the green light. It will play with your preconceptions in ways subtle and profound. Therefore I conclude that it is one of the larger, more enviable cinematic achievements of the past few years.

Check it out.

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April 01, 2009
Great reviews and comments inspired by a movie that elicits thought and question.
March 31, 2009
I think that is the risk filmmakers run when they try to depict unmotivated characters or the Tedium of Life. It can seem ... tedious. The Coen Brothers toyed with the same (lack of) fire in The Man Who Wasn't There (another movie I really like). In Synecdoche, when Caden -- the central character -- runs out of gas, keeping the vehicle rolling along is a tricky proposition. I'm glad you enjoyed (Synecdoche - 30). :-)
March 31, 2009
I would've loved this film... if only they could've cut 30 minutes from it. It was ambitious, conceptually sound, and moving. Still, I nearly fell asleep at the end.
More Synecdoche, New York reviews
review by . September 14, 2010
I don't even know how to start reviewing SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, the new film from writer (ETERNAL SUNSHINE, ADAPTATION) and first-time director Charles Kaufman. I've been looking for a way in to this review since seeing the film two evenings ago.      Here's the best I can come up with: what WAITING FOR GODOT is to Theatre-Of-The-Absurd, SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK is to Film-of-the-Absurd. Both projects are brilliant, yet also maddeningly difficult to fathom at times. GODOT, …
Quick Tip by . July 22, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
had I not been a director of the stage, it would have been easy for me to overlook the beauty of this film. Incredibly dense and cerebral. simply amazing.
Quick Tip by . February 17, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A film that grows on you with multiple viewings. A bizarre, genius, Mobius strip of a film where the lines between reality and fantasy blur.
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Scott Downie ()
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Member Since: Feb 25, 2009
Last Login: Apr 29, 2009 01:48 PM UTC
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About this movie


Synecdoche, New York is a 2008  American film written and directed by Charlie Kaufman. It is Kaufman's directorial debut.

The film premiered in competition at the 61st Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2008. Sony Pictures Classics acquired the United States distribution rights, paying no money but agreeing to give the film's backers a portion of the revenues. It had a limited theatrical release in the U.S. on October 24, 2008.

The film's title is a play on Schenectady, New York, where much of the film is set, and the concept of synecdoche, wherein a part of something stands for the whole.
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