Saturday, January 24, 2009

Film Review Synecdoche

And You Thought You Had Problems

by Eric Green

So what does the word Synecdoche mean? The simple translation is that it is a metaphor for accepting a part of the responsibility for something.*

Well Charlie Kaufman's film by the same name could be summed up that, "All Life is a Metaphor."

Filmgoers like me should have been forewarned that any film effort by Kaufman would not be a normal day at the movies. His previous films like "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation"; and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" were brilliantly created and directed. In 2004 Time Magazine named Kaufman as one of the top 100 most influential writers. That meant his current film had to be seen.

Kaufman starts out his film by giving a sense of comfort. He begins the film with a rather normal looking university theater professor, Caden Cotard, played by Seymour Philip Hoffman, taking his class and theatre troop through the final stages of another comforting event, that is, a production of "Death of a Salesman."

So far so good.

Then Kaufman brings in Hoffman's family life with the comforting presence of his wife, Adele, played by Catherine Keener. We know her and trust her. We see their 4-year old daughter, Olive, played by Sadie Goldstein. We have seen Keener in many films, but many theatergoers have seen her acting in "Being John Malkovich."

We see that Hoffman has a number of medical, physical and mental, problems, both real and imagined. And, we see that Keener is totally happy with her life; and, Hope Davis, their marriage counseling therapist appears to help the couple surpass, what seemed like normal, easily overcome problems.

That is when all hell breaks looks.

For the next two hours, we have Samantha Morton, a hired ticket salesperson at the theatre, tempting Hoffman, just before and during Keener and their 4 year old, flee the country to Germany. Jennifer Jason Leigh enables her in that trek.

And, then Hoffman wins a genius award from the Macarthur Foundation, and he heads off to New York City, to make sure that he uses that Award in the most effective way.

There we find Michelle Williams. Time moves ahead and she has entered Cotard's life both as part of his theatrical world and then as his new wife and father of a child. But, that doesn't end there by a long shot.

Cotard makes trips to Germany trying to find Adele, but more importantly, his daughter, Olive.

Emily Watson another British actor arrives, Morton is also British, and plays a major role in Hoffman's tortured life.

Out of the blue, so to speak, Diane Wiest, the well-known US actress, picks up Cotard life when most other women die or disappear.

The production that Cotard develops moves between real life and wild nitemarish dreams. There is a large city set within a gigantic film studio which also mimicks life.

In case you think that it is only a bevy of wonderfully talented women actors who are surrounding Cotard's life, Tom Noon, plays a key role in playing the role of Cotard. And, Jerry Adler plays the role of Cotard's father.

At one point, Weist asks permissionto play a non-traditional perforance by also playing Cotard. Cotard agrees.


The closest that this film got to being nominated for the 2008 Oscar's was Hoffman's nomination for his performance in the film "Doubt." That's right, not one nomination for this amazing film.

That might be a slight bright spot. The level of this film being a true "downer" cannot be underestimated. I worried for Hoffman acting this role. He has performed many challenging roles, but none as demanding as this one.

Remember the old adage, "What could go wrong, Will go Wrong." Well, with this film, the adage should be adjusted to be, "What could go wrong; will not only go wrong, but will go as far wrong as the mind could possibly imagine."

There are many people I know who should NOT see this film. It is just too heavy to endure.

For people genuinely interested in filmmaking creativity and then the actual production with hugely talented actors, this film cannot be missed.

You may have to use your NetFlix, use it.

Kaufman has shown humor in his films, but the only humor in this film is that the horrendous life experiences that Cotard endures makes you smile for all the wrong reasons.

This film deserved recognition and it will get it.

Well this film is trying a creative effort.

* Wikipedia helps us understand the word: The word "synecdoche" is derived from the Greek συνεκδοχή, from the prepositions συν- + εκ- and the verb -δέχομαι (accept), meaning originally the acceptance of a part of the responsibility for something.

Synecdoche is closely related to metonymy (the figure of speech in which a term denoting one thing is used to refer to a related thing); indeed, synecdoche is considered a subclass of metonymy. It is more distantly related to other figures of speech, such as metaphor.
More rigorously, metonymy and synecdoche may be considered as sub-species of metaphor, intending metaphor as a type of conceptual substitution (as Quintilian does in Institutio oratoria Book VIII). In Lanham's Handlist of Rhetorical Terms p. 189 the three terms have somewhat restrictive definitions, arguably in tune with a certain interpretation of their etymologies from Greek:
metaphor: changing a word from its literal meaning to one not properly applicable but analogous to it; assertion of identity rather than, as with simile, likeness.
metonymy: substitution of cause for effect, proper name for one of its qualities, etc.
synecdoche: substitution of a part for whole, species for genus, etc.