Will Pfeifer: Brilliant Charlie Kaufman outdoes himself again

Will Pfeifer

A “synecdoche” (pronounced si-NEC-duh-key) is a figure of speech where a part indicates the whole (“suit” for “executive”) or the whole indicates a part (“law” for “police officer”).

Confused? Don’t worry. “Synecdoche, New York,” now on DVD, is even more confusing.

At first, the story seems simple enough. A downbeat theater director, Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is frustrated by his work and his marriage to an artist (Catherine Keener).

When she goes to Germany with his daughter, he’s not sure what to do — until he receives a genius grant, giving him the money to do whatever he wants. So he decides to examine his life in a play — an epic play, staged in a colossal warehouse, with actors representing nearly every person in Caden’s life. There’s even an actor (Tom Noonan) playing him.

Got it? Good. Because that’s the most basic, bare-bones outline I could manage.

“Synecdoche, New York” is dense, difficult and almost impossible to grasp in a single viewing, but if you’re willing to stick with it, it’s an amazing, rewarding experience.

“Synecdoche, New York” is the latest film from Charlie Kaufman, the man who wrote “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” He’s also directing, so it’s no surprise that “Synecdoche” feels like his most personal film yet. Caden Cotard may be fictional, but his struggles with life, love and the meaning of it all ring true.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This is in no way a realistic movie. For one thing, Caden’s warehouse is impossibly large, encompassing not only a life-size New York City, but several versions of itself that, in turn, hold several versions of New York (and so on, and so on ...). Also,

Caden’s untitled play is in rehearsal for decades. Outside the warehouse, society collapses, but inside, the actors age and die, never actually facing an audience. Plus, “Synecdoche” is filled with little moments that don’t make sense — time skips ahead, characters disappear and reappear, and Caden’s life becomes less and less real. But somehow, thanks to Kaufman’s smart script and down-to-Earth direction, it all works beautifully.

Contact Will Pfeifer at wpfeifer@rrstar.com or 815-987-1244. Read his Movie Man blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movieman/. See video reviews by the Movie Man at rrstar.com/multimedia.

Make room

Some DVDs out today:

“Afro Ninja: Destiny”

“Faust”

“Head Case”

“Jag: The Eighth Season”

“Return Of The Outlaws”

“Three Stooges Collection 5: 1946-1948”

“Triangle

And CDs:

Lionel Richie, “Just Go”

Willie Nelson, “Naked Willie”

Marianne Faithfull, “Easy Come, Easy Go”

Static-X, “Cult Of Static”

Superdrag, “Industry Giants”

Nick Lowe, “Quiet Please: The New Best Of Nick Lowe”

Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com