October 28, 2008


Synecdoche, New York

A friend casually asked me if I'd heard anything about the latest Charlie Kauffman film (written and directed by him) called Synecdoche, New York (IMDb) (click here to watch the trailer at apple). This was a surprising question, because I had no knowledge of a new Charlie Kauffman film, much less that it was one with which he was making his directorial debut.

I don't think I could be any more curious about this film. I wondered: what is a synecdoche? How do I pronounce that? Fortunately the website for the film answers these questions explaining a synechdoche (pronounced “si-nek-duh-kee”) is a part of something that can stand for the whole for which the whole can also stand for that part. Kaufman has imagined this concept on a tremendous scale. I'm trying not to learn too much about this film before seeing it, but it seems to be a story about a theater-director who has built a life-size replica of Manhattan as part of some epochal play as a way to create something of lasting importance. With Phillip Seymore Hoffman playing the main role, and Kaufman for the first time directing, I can only wonder just how unique this movie will be.

Some things I've discovered online are curious; for instance, the word 'synecdoche,' the title, is a pun on the city of Schenectady, New York, which is where the film is set, which is where Hoffman's character builds a life-size replica of Manhattan (or a portion of) which in real life happens to have a GE plant that has the zip code 12345. How bizarre? Coincidence?

Kaufman likes to examine extraordinary ideas in his films...like what would happen if someone discovered a secret door that once passed through the traveler found themselves in control of a moderately well-known actor -Being John Malkovich. Or, what if instead of making an adaptation of a novel, making a film about his attempts to make an adaption, beginning mostly grounded in reality but adapting into a fictional adventure – Adaptation (IMDb). Or, what would happen if a man decides he didn't really want to forget all traces of his love as he's undergoing a mental erasure procedure to delete all traces of her from his memory so instead sets about planting clues in other parts of his memory while undergoing the process to help him find her again -- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

...Thinking about a life-size 'synecdoche' of Manhattan makes me remember being a kid and being overwhelmed with New York City; there was a majesty about it that's hard to define. I analyzed photo books and axonometric maps of the more distinct structures in preparation for visiting the city that to me seemed from another world. And as a tourist often does, I remember holding a small plastic version of the Empire State Building, the likes of which is to be found in every major city having some epochal man-made structure, such as the Eiffel Tower, or Big Ben, or St. Louis's Gateway to the West, etc. That figurine, mass-produced in a chinese factory and sold in the thousands to willing tourists, is on a small scale is what I'm reminded of by the idea of Synecdoche, New York.

I am really excited to see this movie, but as its only showing in NYC and LA at the moment and I can find no indication when it will broaden its theater horizons, who knows when I'll actually get a chance to see Synecdoche New York? I am so intrigued by this movie, I might have to find a way to justify a trip to NYC just to see it. Anyways, what better a place to watch a film about someone building a replica of the very same city.

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