Perform or…die (Synecdoche, New York movie review)

Death can happen only once in a lifetime. In the theatre, you can die infinitely many times. But what happens when you blur the line between reality and fiction? How many parallel stories you can create? One of Polish directors, Tadeusz Kantor, wanted to die on the stage. It would be the final victory of reality. Another man of the theatre died when he was playing the role of King Lear. His wife wrote a beautiful book – ‘King Lear is dead”. As Shakespeare said: life makes up the best scenarios.

‘Synecdoche, New York’, a movie directed by Charlie Kaufman, tells the story of Caden Cotard (wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman) – a theatre director, who struggles with his work, and the women in his life. He creates a life-size replica of New York and makes it an integral part of his new performance, which is supposed to be both – his opus magnum and his last goodbye. We are dealing here with the image of a total, existential catastrophe. ‘Where did they all go” – asks Caden. The answer is brutal – they are dead. New York is turned into a cemetery. You ask desolation about your own emptiness. Kaufman deconstructs the illusion of happiness. When he strips uniqueness off from his main character, he wants the whole audience to understand that sadness is the only real thing that one can experience. Caden is a synecdoche of those who at the end are about to realize that they are not special. We have to struggle into existence and then slip silently out of it. Kaufman couldn’t make it any sadder.

What’s important – ‘Synecdoche’ is not only a heartbreaking, nihilistic treatise on the futility of existence, but also an extremely mischievous, and absolutely funny parody of contemporary artists who  are pathetically trying to pushed the equal sign between life and performance. Of course, Kaufman’s movie is not a cabaret – the directors knows that the metaphor of life as theatre is older than postmodern madness, and he makes this parallel look more metaphysical than grotesque or pathetic.

Kaufman takes on a journey through obsessions, fascinations and desires, which was doomed to failure, and will never reach its full implementation. ‘Synecdoche’ is a story about self-deception. About life that is a game you can lose only once. And about leaving lasting impressions on the set of other people private stories. This movie didn’t become very famous, which seems to be both – strange and obvious. It’s hard to promote a film that reminds you of something even more scary that death itself – of the eternal emptiness.