In Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York (2008), Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a character who is suffering from a number of symptoms, but it soon becomes apparent that the real culprit is existence. Caden Cotard (Hoffman’s character) is dying of life, as we all do. It’s appropriate that Caden is a theater director whose gesamtkunstwerk is an autobiographical piece of performance art because by definition what we his audience all strive for is, at least, the illusion that we're in control of our destinies. And what is life according to Charlie Kaufman? Perhaps no movie has ever envisioned the protoplasm of being in a more poetic way that also rings true. Life is a fungible currency which is constantly trading. It also resembles a labile dream in which people suffer the neurological conditions of either Capgras syndrome (in which an imposter seems to occupy a recognizable face) or prosopagnosia (in which the ability to recognize face is totally lost). Finally it also resembles the ephemeral stage set Caden is building whose fragile layers comprise a tower of aspiration leading to nowhere, a tower of Babel in which all the inhabitants are locked in themselves and where, lacking a common language, no one effectively communicates with anyone else. Lovers become strangers and strangers turn into lovers. And all the while the director and his proxies wander from room to room, with part of the movie also devoted to Caden’s search for the child who had been snatched away by an estranged wife. Lewis Thomas wrote a classic called Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. In biology the cell is the basic unit of organic matter whose DNA and RNA can tell you everything you want to know about a living organism. In Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman creates the imaginative equivalent of a basic component of human life, fragile, ever changing in shape, elusive and contradictory in its instinct both for creation and extinction.
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