Synecdoche, New York Review

Overall Grade: C+

It’s hard to review a movie like Synecdoche because the film is (even after my very best efforts) nearly indecipherable. Just twenty minutes in and the film already begins to tip us off that there will be some time twisting and funny tricks going on, but what eventually happens in the film is not at all what I was expecting. The time twisting isn’t in the flavor of Tarantino, Nolan, or even something Gilliam would do, its time twisting that doesn’t serve any purpose storytelling or narrative wise, its primarily thematic and character driven.

In other words, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character says its only been days since his wife left him, when other characters say its been over a year. There are several instances where the movie plays with the ages, voices, and names of characters in order to achieve this same goal. One of the character’s houses are on fire during the duration of the film, something that is never made mention of by anyone at anytime. Is this because Hoffman was drugged like in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or in a coma, or like in A Beautiful Mind to give us insight into how a disease works? Clearly not. So what exactly is it for?

This is probably the most frustrating aspect of the film for me. I don’t necessarily think that films should spell out completely what it is about, but at the same time, I don’t think that the film should feel so indecipherable and insular that it remains distant and hard to engage. Synecdoche definitely leans heavy on the undecipherable side. Clearly, there is a strong sense of nihilism that runs strong through this film. In fact, its this theme of nihilism that gives me my strongest Rosetta stone in trying to understand it. I feel like the movie is telling us that most of the things we experience in life (falling in love, falling out of love, grief, fear of death, selfishness, desire to love our kids, disappointment with others and life) is in reality vane and pointless. Synecdoche is not a film that endorses a nihilistic set of morals (although one could be extracted from it), but is more content to examine the meaningless of life and interpret it artistically. In this way, I think the movie has great merit.

However, your humble Part-Time Critic is more than willing to concede that there is probably much more merit to the film than I give it credit. In fact, there is probably mountains and mountains of meaning and purpose behind everything in the film. I, unfortunately, am not able to discern it.The fact that the movie doesn’t present a typical narrative and typical characters that presented me with a few likable features to them makes me hesitant to re-visit Synecdoche. It’s a disappointment for me because I am such a big Charlie Kaufman (he’s the writer of Synecdoche), with Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind being two of my favorite films.

I’ve read several reviews that call it a masterpiece and a new achievement in art. If that’s true (and it probably is), then it’s one of those odd abstract paintings that people read so much into, yet remain remote and messy to me. If any of what I have said sounds interesting to you, then I recommend a viewing. In fact, a good rule of thumb might be David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, if you liked that, then you’ll get a kick out of this!

Anyone else seen this film that can help this Part-Time Critic out? Your thoughts are most welcome!


  1. "In fact, a good rule of thumb might be David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, if you liked that, then you’ll get a kick out of this!"

    PRICELESS!! I really feel like that statement sums up this movie. Unless you're the type of person who only liked 'Mulholland Drive' because of Naomi Watts having hot lesbian sex; then you might not be into 'Synedoche' so much.

    I can't fully put my finger on why I enjoyed 'Synedoche, New York.' I was engaged by the tone of the film, but I don't think I could explain the plot to you. I plan on seeing it again to try to figure out all the little twists and turns. I know that the original cut of the movie was over three and half hours long. I'm really glad that it was cut down (I prefer 85 minute movies myself), but I wonder what was left out.

    Finally, I will admit that I found Samantha Morton's performance to be top notch. She commanded every scene in my opinion, and really pulled off the aging thing well. Couldn't tell you the purpose of her character (or why her house was always burning), but I liked her presence just the same.

  2. ChillwithWill,

    Speaking of sex, this is the second straight Hoffman film (Before the Devil Knows Your Dead with Marisa being the other) where we watch him have it, I guess the ladies have to get pandered too as well right?

    I agree with you completely on Morton, and I would throw in everyone else really. I think Morton's one of the best actresses working today though, have you seen her in Sweet and Lowdown? Leaman Award winner for best supporting actress for that role.

    I enjoyed many of the Kaufman touches like people shadowing people (and ultimately shadowing those people as well). Emily Watson's Samantha Morton was spot-on!

    "Couldn't tell you the purpose of her character (or why her house was always burning), but I liked her presence just the same."

    Something tells me that this is the feeling we are supposed to get from the film, because its the feeling that Kaufman gets from life itself. Interesting.

    P.S. Glad to know I wasn't the only one in the dark a bit


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