Synecdoche, NY!


Talk about a movie that could be dissected for months and months! What a rare treat in a movie. Those who only wish to watch a movie on the surface will not understand, or like this movie, I wager. The names of the characters have meaning, so does the word synecdoche, which is a literary word meaning: “simultaneous understanding”.

Caden Cotard is in the prime of his life and falling apart. Many things around him are decaying or dead and he focuses on those things so much, he drives his wife away. His therapist is a cheerful dolt who only listens on the surface and then only wishes to sell him her book, which is her meaning of life, not anyone else’s. The characters are all selfishly narcissistic and in need of therapy, but this is the world, in a nutshell, magnified. Microcosm-Macrocosm.

Cotard is obsessed with his illnesses, his poop, pustules and other maladies. He clearly needs to be acknowledged, and his life sets him up to be scrutinized by doctors, shrinks and dentists. As a director, he seeks fame and wins an award so he can finally make his masterpiece on the stage. Trouble is, it is more convoluted than that. There is one scene in which he directs others who “have no idea” what life is about, they need to be told how to talk, walk and interact. Seems like real life where people cannot discern their own best decision. There are so many wonderful pieces of dialog here that it is almost impossible to choose just one I liked the most. Instead of finding it dreary and morose, I found this fresh and inspiring. It gave me hope that I was not alone in some of the anguish I feel, the sense of dread is real and affects everyone.

Many of the ways that the film stretches the boundaries of realism are focused on seemingly odd preferences. For instance, Hazel buys a house that is perpetually on fire.  “At first showing reluctance to buy it, Hazel remarks to the real estate agent, “I like it, I do. But I’m really concerned about dying in the fire,” which prompts the response “It’s a big decision, how one prefers to die.” In an interview with Michael Guillén, Kaufman stated, “Well, she made the choice to live there. In fact, she says in the scene just before she dies that the end is built into the beginning. That’s exactly what happens there. She chooses to live in this house. She’s afraid it’s going to kill her but she stays there and it does. That is the truth about any choice that we make. We make choices that resonate throughout our lives.” She also dies from smoke inhalation, which shows the audience we reap the consequences of our erroneous decisions.


Caden’s last name is “Cotard” which is the same name as a psychological state called the “Cotard delusion” which means one believes oneself to be dead or that one’s organs are missing or decaying. Yes, this is a continuing theme in the movie. Caden means “battle” and we know he battles these thoughts throughout. His daughter, Olive, can also be broken into the idea “O-Live” which seems to be something she and her mother are bound to do without him. Adele “Lack” lacks the compassion for her husband after so many years of marriage. She works tediously on her tiny paintings. They are so tiny, she needs magnifying glasses to see them and for the audience to view them. She is good on small details, but on large, she lacks proper vision.


One of the scenes requires him to ring a doorbell with the name Capgras above it. Capgras syndrome is a psychiatric disorder in which sufferers perceive familiar people (spouses, siblings and, friends) to have been replaced by identical imposters. This doppelganger theme is echoed throughout the film as individuals are replaced by actors in Caden’s ever-expanding play. The doppleganger, which comes from German expressionism means: “double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune. In modern vernacular it is any double or look-alike of a person.” This motif is at the center of the film where director Caden hires actors to be characters that are alive and interact with the other. The most amazing sets offer us a continuous look at the deeply structured “rooms” we inhabit in life.


What a movie!


Poem at beginning of movie was Rilke’s :


Best dialog in the movie IMHO:””Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but it doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along. Something to make you feel connected, something to make you feel whole, something to make you feel loved…”


Theater of the Absurd: The Theatre of the Absurd is commonly associated with Existentialism, and Existentialism was an influential philosophy in Paris during the rise of the Theatre of the Absurd; however, to call it Existentialist theatre is problematic for many reasons. It gained this association partly because it was named (by Esslin) after the concept of “absurdism” advocated by Albert Camus, a philosopher commonly called Existentialist though he frequently resisted that label. Absurdism is most accurately called Existentialist in the way Franz Kafka’s work is labeled Existentialist: it embodies an aspect of the philosophy though the writer may not be a committed follower.[48] As Tom Stoppard said in an interview, “I must say I didn’t know what the word ‘existential’ meant until it was applied to Rosencrantz. And even now existentialism is not a philosophy I find either attractive or plausible. But it’s certainly true that the play can be interpreted in existential terms, as well as in other terms.”[49]

Many of the Absurdists were contemporaries with Jean-Paul Sartre, the philosophical spokesman for Existentialism in Paris, but few Absurdists actually committed to Sartre’s own Existentialist philosophy, as expressed in Being and Nothingness, and many of the Absurdists had a complicated relationship with him. Sartre praised Genet’s plays, stating that for Genet “Good is only an illusion. Evil is a Nothingness which arises upon the ruins of Good”


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