Synecdoche, New York

February 5th, 2009


Synecdoche, New York

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Still of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Michelle Williams in Synecdoche, New YorkStill of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Synecdoche, New YorkEmmanuelle Béart at event of Synecdoche, New YorkStill of Samantha Morton in Synecdoche, New YorkStill of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener in Synecdoche, New YorkStill of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Hope Davis in Synecdoche, New York

A theater director struggles with his work, and the women in his life, as he attempts to create a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse as part of his new play.

Release Year: 2008

Rating: 7.3/10 (25,397 voted)

Critic's Score: 67/100

Director: Charlie Kaufman

Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams

Theater director Caden Cotard is mounting a new play. Fresh off of a successful production of Death of a Salesman, he has traded in the suburban blue-hairs and regional theater of Schenectady for the cultured audiences and bright footlights of Broadway. Armed with a MacArthur grant and determined to create a piece of brutal realism and honesty, something into which he can put his whole self, he gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse in Manhattan's theater district. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane, instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a small mockup of the city outside. As the city inside the warehouse grows, Caden's own life veers wildly off the tracks. The shadow of his ex-wife Adele, a celebrated painter who left him years ago for Germany's art scene, sneers at him from every corner. Somewhere in Berlin, his daughter Olive is growing up under the questionable guidance of Adele's friend...

Philip Seymour Hoffman - Caden Cotard
Catherine Keener - Adele Lack
Sadie Goldstein - Olive (4 years old)
Tom Noonan - Sammy Barnathan
Peter Friedman - Emergency Room Doctor
Charles Techman - Like Clockwork Patient
Josh Pais - Ophthalmologist
Daniel London - Tom
Robert Seay - David
Michelle Williams - Claire Keen
Stephen Adly Guirgis - Davis
Samantha Morton - Hazel
Hope Davis - Madeleine Gravis
Frank Girardeau - Plumber
Jennifer Jason Leigh - Maria


Official Website: Océan Films [France] | Official site |

Release Date: 5 February 2009

Filming Locations: Bronx, New York City, New York, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $21,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $172,194 (USA) (26 October 2008) (9 Screens)

Gross: $3,081,925 (USA) (22 March 2009)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

Roger Ebert named this film the best of the 2000s.

Incorrectly regarded as goofs: Announcer on the radio at the very beginning says it's 22 September. The newspaper is dated in October, it's Christmas when the sinks smashes his forehead, New Year's on the ride home and March in the ophthalmologist's office. Kaufman afforded his film a dreamlike quality by playing with the representation of time throughout.

Caden Cotard: My father died. They said his body was riddled with cancer and that he didn't know, he went in because his finger hurt. They said he suffered horribly, and that he called out for me before he died. They said that he said he regretted his life. They said he said a lot of things, too many to recount, and they said it was the longest and the saddest deathbed speech any of them had ever heard.

User Review

One of the Most Deeply Affecting Movies I've Seen in a Long Time

Rating: 10/10

It's virtually impossible to summarize my feelings on "Synecdoche, New York." This astonishing brain teaser from the mind of Charlie Kaufman affected me deeply, probably more than any film I've yet seen this year. I can't say it's necessarily enjoyable, because it's full of uncomfortable, brave truths about what it means to be human, and it goes places most movies don't dare to. But watching it is a bracing experience, and it's encouraging to know that there are still filmmakers willing to use film as a means of challenging their audiences and picking at scabs that most people would prefer to remain solidly in place.

I can't begin to tell you what "Synecdoche, New York" means, and it wouldn't matter anyway, because I think it will mean different things to different people. A basic summary goes something like this: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a morose, depressed theatre director who's convinced that fatal diseases are lurking around every blood vessel, and who decides to stage a monstrous, ambitious theatrical work that will leave him remembered after he dies. Soon, the work as he's staging it becomes confused with the life he's living, so that he finds himself directing a version of himself through a story that seems to be made up as it moves along.

If this sounds like an act of mental masturbation by a pretentious intellectual with too much time on his hands, rest assured: "Synecdoche, New York" is not one of THOSE films. I didn't become impatient with Kaufman or his characters, like I have with some of his previous projects. In fact, this film made me uneasy because of how much of it I DID relate to. The conclusions it draws are that we are all alone in this big universe, life doesn't necessarily have any meaning other than what one brings to it, and there is not a higher power who is going to make sure our passage through the world makes sense. It was a bit of a wake up call to hear these beliefs, beliefs that I happen to share, stated so boldly, for while I'm confident in what I believe, that confidence doesn't make the beliefs themselves any less scary.

But depressing and nihilistic as those beliefs might sound, the film is life affirming in its own way. It suggests that too many of us spend too much time trying to make sense of the world and not enough time living in it. We pull back in loneliness and fear when faced with things bigger than ourselves rather than turning to those who can actually help, namely the other human beings with whom we share our time on this planet.

"Synecdoche, New York" will not likely find a big audience, as most people will either not want to work at understanding it or won't like what it has to say. But if you're willing to go into it with an open mind, you might just find yourself amazed.

Grade: A+


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