Sunday February 23, 2020

Revisiting Synecdoche New York, a bewildering masterpiece that should come out of shadows


kaufmanBy Atul Mishra

“What was once before you – an exciting, mysterious future – is now behind you. Lived; understood; disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence, and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone’s experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter.”

Life, death, love, creativity, identity, frustration, forgiveness and regret, are a few epistemologies that are battled everyday in the ennui of human existence. These all are explored at a gigantic scale in Synecdoche, New York, a 2008 American postmodern drama film written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was Kaufman’s directorial debut. The Oscar-winning screenwriter Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) nails the very essence of existence of every human being.

The plot follows an ailing theatre director (Hoffman) as he works on an increasingly elaborate stage production whose extreme commitment to realism begins to blur the boundaries between fiction and reality. Life is too bleak for theater director Caden Cotard (Hoffman). His wife and daughter have left him, his therapist is more interested in plugging her new book than helping him with his problems, and a strange disease is causing his body to shut down. Caden leaves his home in Schenectady, New York, and heads to New York City, where he gathers a cast of actors and tells them to live their lives within the constructs of a mock-up of the city.

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photo credit:

Caden builds a replica of New York in a colossal warehouse, where his players perform their scenes behind closed doors. This leads on to plays within plays and blurred lines between fiction and reality, and to push it further out there, Kaufman plays with time, speeding up its passage as the decades roll away and Hoffman becomes more decrepit and lost. The narrative leapfrogs ahead in sudden fast-forward leaps. Caden’s kid is four – no, wait, she’s 11, living in Berlin with her mother and dissolute lover – no, hang on, she’s in her 30s, tattooed, messed up, working in some porn-booth. Before you know it, she’s on her deathbed, angrily accusing a decrepit Caden of abuse.

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photo credit:

It is as much a cry from the heart as it is an assertion of creative consciousness. It’s extravagantly conceptual but also tethered to the here and now. The key to understanding Synecdoche, NY is realizing that protagonist Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is dead.  He has killed himself before the movie even starts. The first hint we get that Caden is dead comes immediately at the film’s open.  Over black, a child (presumably Caden’s daughter Olive) sings a simple rhyme written by Kaufman himself.  The lyrics are innocent enough at first:

There’s a place I long to be

A certain town that’s dear to me

Home to Mohawks and G.E.

It’s called Schenectady

I was born there and I’ll die there

My first home I hope to buy there

Have a kid or at least try there

Sweet Schenectady.

You get the sense that Kaufman feared he might never make another movie, and so crammed in every idea he’d ever wanted to explore. It’s at once epic and intimate, brilliant and scabrous. To quote Roger Ebert here and his appreciation of the film, “Here is how life is supposed to work,” Ebert wrote. “We come out of ourselves and unfold into the world. We try to realize our desires. We fold back into ourselves, and then we die.”

The plot of the movie is not the point.  Obviously, it’s the themes of mortality, love, and inaction that are important here.  And while the film is deeply and wholly depressing, it is not without its message.  Perhaps Caden wasted his life and things didn’t work out for him.  But that doesn’t have to be us. If you to go out, grab life by the balls, and make your own fate, this is a must watch.

If Charlie Kaufman never does anything again, this will stand as his cracked monument that shall eternally remain standing among the reels showing the hard hitting real life. And this film, not known to even many film buffs, should really be given its due. It’s Kaufman’s magnum opus that leaves you mesmerized and is a lifelong experience in itself.

Next Story

Here’s Why Drone Delivery is Not Possible in Densely-Populated Areas Like New York or New Delhi

The study, conducted by Gohram Baloch and Gzara, used New York City as an example and looks at data surrounding the Manhattan area

Demand for drone delivery in e-retail is high but the ability to meet that demand is very low. Pixabay

Your dream to get a pizza delivered by a drone or an Amazon drone knocking at the door will remain a dream as researchers have revealed that a drone delivery service is not realistic and may not be possible in densely-populated areas like New York or New Delhi.

The reason is simple: Demand for drone delivery in e-retail is high but the ability to meet that demand is very low. For a city like New York, the optimal design for the test locations, based on all factors, is three drone facilities covering 75 per cent of NYC area and 34 per cent of the population.

“Opening a fourth facility increases area and population coverage to 84 per cent and 38 per cent, respectively, but the increase in operation cost is not enough to cover the facility costs,” said the researchers from University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

“We analyse the tradeoffs between distribution costs and revenues under varying social difficulties with drones like customer preferences and regulatory and technological limitations,” said Fatma Gzara, a professor in the Department of Management Sciences at Waterloo.

“We then can make educated decisions on how many facilities to open, which services to offer at that facility and which services to make available to customers in certain areas,” she added. The new research, published in the journal Transportation Science, looked at how possible and desirable it is to use drones for delivery for e-retailers considering cost and effectiveness in certain population areas and in certain locations.

The study, conducted by Gohram Baloch and Gzara, used New York City as an example and looks at data surrounding the Manhattan area. The authors separated the area into boroughs based on population and size. Baloch and Gzara said they chose New York because the world’s largest e-retail company, Amazon, first started its 2-hour delivery services in the Big Apple.

Researchers have revealed that a drone delivery service is not realistic and may not be possible in densely-populated areas like New York or New Delhi. Pixabay

“Our results show that government regulations, technological limitations, and service charge decisions play a vital role in optimal configurations and drone target markets,” said Gzara.

“Under current drone landing capabilities, a drone delivery service may not be possible in a densely populated area like Manhattan where demand for such a service is expected to be high,” the researchers wrote.

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e-retailers can reach smaller markets and more price-sensitive customers by possibly offering discounts on drone-delivered orders, the findings showed. (IANS)