“I don’t know why I make it so complicated!” mumbles theatre director Caden Cotard as he fumbles through a production of Death Of A Salesman.
You could say the same of Charlie Kaufman, the Oscar-winning writer whose directing debut is so complex it makes Eternal Sunshine look like Fast & Furious.
Even the title is a puzzle, a play on Cotard’s hometown Schenectady allied to a figure of speech in which one thing stands for another. Cotard, too, has an allegorical significance, referring to a delusional syndrome where a person believes he’s rotting away.
Or maybe not so delusional. In this stunningly ambitious, slyly witty and deeply affecting tale, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s hero is indeed “hurtling towards death” – a fear Kaufman renders terrifyingly tangible by editing scenes that are often years apart into a continuous, flowing narrative.
Deserted by his wife (Catherine Keener) and neglected by his therapist (Hope Davis), he has nothing to live for – until a seemingly unlimited bursary allows him to construct a full-scale mock-up of his messy, lonely existence inside an impossibly vast New York warehouse.
Refusing to settle for “anything less than the brutal truth,” he sets about his masterwork, casting actors to play himself (Tom Noonan), his wife (Michelle Williams) and his loyal PA (Samantha Morton in one world, Emily Watson in another).
As life becomes art and vice versa, though, the lines become so blurred even we’re not certain if we’re watching reality, a simulation or an extended dream.
Suffice to say that if you’re not paying attention you’ll quickly get lost down Kaufman’s philosophical rabbit-hole. But afford Synecdoche the respect it deserves and you’ll find it a smart, funny and endlessly poignant fable that, just for good measure, features a virtual who’s who of female indie talent.