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The Statesman

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The Statesman

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Imaginary Cities

Charlie Kaufman strikes again.

Kaufman’s most recent film, “Synecdoche, NY,” which aired at the Staller Center this past Friday, is a masterpiece of absurdism that still manages to capture the imagination and stir the heart.

Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has a life in ruins: his marriage is failing, his body is riddled with a mysterious yet non-life-threatening disease, and his career seems to be in a slump.

The film opens just as Caden is preparing for the opening night of his production of “The Death of a Salesman” at a local theater in Schenectady, NY. His wife, Adele Lack (Catherine Keener) is a miniaturist preparing for a showing of her tiny paintings in Berlin.

The tension between the two of them is obvious. They fight over silly things, go to therapy sessions that end in deadlock, and we are not surprised when Adele does not attend opening night.

Adele finally leaves for Berlin, where she later becomes more and more famous. She takes their four-year-old daughter, Olive (Sadie Goldstein), with her, leaving Caden behind. After a year of bemoaning his fate and calling Adele at all hours of the day and night, Caden finally starts flirting with the box office girl from the theater, Hazel (Samantha Morton).

Morton’s character and her life is stunning, if awkward. For example, her real estate agent’s son lives in the basement of her house, that just so happens to be perpetually on fire.

Hazel’s relationship with Caden does not work out, but instead, Caden gets a MacArthur Fellowship. He decides he will put on a play that will attempt to tell something true and real about life and mortality.

He decides to reconstruct a part of New York City inside a warehouse in the city, getting actors to play real people, including himself, Hazel, Adele, and Adele’s lesbian lover Maria.

As the film goes on, the construction inside the warehouse becomes more and more elaborate, and the characters’ lives multiply and grow more complicated. Caden cannot move without his “character” following him everywhere. Caden marries his star actress, Claire Keen (Michelle Williams), who she plays herself, until she cannot deal with Caden’s double, Sammy Barnathan (Tom Noonan), feeling her up all the time.

Along with the story of the theater project that never has an audience, as it spirals out of control, are the stoies of Caden and his attempts to reach his first daughter, Olive, to reconnect with Adele, his failed relationship with Hazel (who married the guy in the basement), and his failed marriage to Claire.

Time passes in the blink of an eye in “Synecdoche, NY,” and the constant motif of the film is Caden’s impending death, which takes thirty years to happen, even though he feels he is constantly on the edge of the precipice.

Playful yet thoughtful, moving yet funny, “Synecdoche, NY” is undoubtedly the best film with a literary term in its title. It is one of Charlie Kaufman’s best works to date, as it avoids any kind of sentimentality, yet still manages to evoke strong emotions, while juggling many metaphors at once.

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