Synecdoche, New York – Charlie Kaufman’s Global Oracle

Matthew Mandel, age 16

As the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman, notable writer of such universally praised movies as “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind” and “Being John Malkovich,” “Synecdoche, New York” stands as Kaufman’s first opportunity to step out of the writer’s chair and take the reigns of an entire theatrical release, giving him full artistic license regarding the film’s story line, characters and overarching theme. Kaufman took advantage of this through his commentary on the mind-set of the information age and where society is headed into the future. “We’re all hurtling toward death, yet here we are for the moment, alive; each of us knowing we’re going to die, each of us secretly believing we won’t,” says Caden Cotard, a fragile, anxious playwright, and the protagonist of “Synecdoche, New York,” played by Philip Seymour-Hoffman.

In the film, Caden is awarded a MacArthur grant, which allows him to finally produce a masterwork which allows him to portray a pure representation of his inner workings (much like Kaufman with this movie). Unfortunately for Caden, this feat will cost him his career and his concentration, as he attempts to recreate every real-world conflict with thousands of actors and scenes within the play. All the while, he deals with issues of romance, fatherhood and aging, fully aware of the results of his every decision and the inevitability of death. Charlie Kaufman utilizes this deeply cognizant character to reflect not only himself, but also everyone living in the information age.

In this all-too-nearing future, constant access to public opinion and social ridicule leaves Caden overly self-aware, to the point where he questions his every move and action in the entire movie. He allows his eye for perfection within his play do a number to his physical health, neglecting his humanity for the sake of that which he wishes to share with the world. Could this, too, be the fate of humanity? Doomed to inevitably create our own ideal worlds, where all conflicts reflect our own perspectives, to a degree of tunnel vision wherein we begin to disregard our surroundings? This corresponds both with the director and users of social media, as posts and statuses may be perfected to portray to the world one’s best self, whether or not this may be their candid self. A book could be written on the detailed level of allegory utilized in this film, but the best place to begin searching is within the title “Synecdoche, New York.” Caden creates his own synecdoche, or a part meant to represent the whole, within his uncannily intricate depiction of the world at large. One thing is for sure, Charlie Kaufman’s 2008 treasure is sure to perplex, and allow for some deep introspection and self acceptance.