Synecdoche, New York

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Entire essays could be constructed on any of the multiple overarching themes that make up the heart of Synecdoche, New York. This entry will focus solely on love.

Writing shortly after the death of his wife, C. S. Lewis made the following observation: “Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead”. The human experience is made up of an array of emotions, some more powerful than others, that dictate how our lives are to be led. In Synecdoche, New York, a deeply distressing picture about the way we live our lives, protagonist Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) never once stops and thinks. He feels sick; he feels angry; he feels remorseful.

Lewis was aware that if he allowed himself to drown in the ocean of his memories, he’d float in the water for a very long time, in danger of forgetting how to breathe. He had to force himself to think, and only then was he able to encounter some semblance of solace. How did C. S. Lewis manage to do this? It nearly cost him his life, he writes, but he survived solely because of the gracious hand of God.

But what about when God is too far away to hear us? Or, worse yet, when there just isn’t any God, as is the case in this picture? Then we are all Caden Cotard. Charlie Kauffman, the mad genius who wrote and directed this, argues that while love alone might not be able to save us, it’s the closest experience we have of the divine.

“I have breathed your name in every exhalation”, Caden confesses to the woman he’s been in love with for the past quarter of a century.

“My heart aches so much for you”, he tells her when he finally, at long last, decides to go home with her.

“The play will take place over the course of a day. It was the day we spent together before you died. It was the happiest day of my life”, a miserable Caden sobs into the telephone connected to a line that will never be picked up.

Synecdoche, New York is a profoundly melancholy picture, and I’d be surprised if there were any takes out there who can view even the slightest glimmer of hope in it. But perhaps there are some lessons to be had; perhaps Kauffman presents Caden Cotard not so much as the inevitable creature we are, or will become, but as a warning. If love really is the epitome of a life well lived, if human beings did not come to this world to experience it alone, then we should be brave. We should not wait until the 11th hour to make our hearts be known to somebody.

And then maybe we should try following Lewis’s example, and try to think. This world will drown us in its sorrows, love is also fleeting, but maybe, just maybe, there is a God who could save us. And they say His love never ends.

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