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Heroes of the Zeroes: Synecdoche, New York

by on October 19, 2010
 

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Synecdoche, New York”
Rated R
2008

No filmmaker excels at existential largeness and largesse like Charlie Kaufman — unearthing deep feelings from the floorboards of fatuous fantasies like “Adaptation.,” “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

“Synecdoche, New York,” Kaufman’s 2008 directorial debut, at times felt like “8 ½” from the mind of the man who created the 7 ½ floor. Theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) erects a facsimile of his world inside a warehouse, where truth and simulation collide until they’re indiscernible.

Caden’s life and overlapping plays become labyrinths in which he’s lost, besieged by failed lovers (Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson), grotesque medical conditions (only Hoffman could reveal burdens through gastrointestinal distress) and melancholy insecurities.

Art is a dream through which some seek to rise above the mundane. “Synecdoche” is the nightmare of succumbing further to the mundane because of art.

But like a blank slate easily rewritten on subsequent viewings, “Synecdoche” concerns everything in life and death: ear-roaring, gut-plummeting anxiety; pathetic pathology of types and patterns; a year’s blink-and-miss-it passage; fear of being misremembered; fleeting moments of bliss; companions with whom we’re messy, but nevertheless comfortable and compatible

Only death cuts life’s Gordian Knot. Even then, others inherit and inhabit parts of our life. Our existence and legacy represent but a fraction of a fraction of a second of universal time.

“Synecdoche” could feel heady and inaccessible, but was gloriously indispensable — the Zeroes’ most thematically spidery, confounding, and combative film, but one of its very best.