Synecdoche, New York, is a haunting film. In the weeks since I saw it, I'm not sure a day has gone by that I haven't thought about it. It's also a humongous, confusing mess. But I'm willing to forgive Charlie Kaufman that; the high points are too high not to.
As the writer of such films as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kaufman has become known for his surreal — and, yet, ultimately, very real — explorations of humanity. Synecdoche, New York, his directorial debut, is maybe his most precise work on that theme, tracing his main character through years of middle age, declining health, and the potent desire to do something while there's still time. Kaufman may be suffering from a bit of that desire himself, as he tosses all kinds of twists into his story, some of which lead it astray. But that doesn't keep it from being a moving mood piece of a film.
Synecdoche, New York actually has a mostly logical main story: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a local theater director producing a lowish-rent production of Death of a Salesman and struggling to maintain his marriage with his more-famous wife, Adele (Catherine Keener). When she takes off for Germany with their daughter and Caden receives a MacArthur grant, he decides to stage a giant-scale theater piece about life (yes, just that: life), setting it inside a towering replica of New York. Everything else spins off from there, so just read more