There are few films that focus on the fragility of life itself. The complexities of everyday life that plague our minds in ways that have us running around like ants, placing the reality of existence to the back of our minds as if that inevitable day of death is a mere fairy tale.
Synecdoche, New York is one of few films that holds that thought and gives it a spotlight: how far are we willing to go to feel satisfied with the limited time we have alive? At which point are we finally liberated from the desperation of wanting to leave something significant behind? Is there even a valuable reason for that? While these questions aren't exactly given answers, the film explores the mind of an artist, set on creating the biggest display he possibly can to leave something behind.
Played by the incredible Philip Seymour Hoffman, Caden Cotard is a man that has lost everything that gave him stability in life: a loving family and his own health. With the realisation that his time is limited, and his health declining, he becomes obsessed with the concept of creating a theater experience that will stand the test of time and keep his name alive for an eternity. However, what ensues is a story of a man trying his hardest to achieve a final state of which he is never actually satisfied with. He wants absolute perfection, and as a result, more time, money, and emotions are required.
Caden becomes fixated on the complexities of everyday life. He finds the ultimate beauty in performance to be nothing short of nonfiction. He thrives on the idea of observing genuine emotions in real time, watching how people go about their lives all at once, though each life having its own incredible story riddled with either happiness or sorrow. His mind is set on creating a theater experience that simply observes real life. With this, the project forever grows in size, adding more people, events, buildings, to the point where a city is created and the actors themselves grow old.
Charlie Kaufman's writing is famous for nihilistic themes, focusing on very real events and emotions with the realisation of time added. He focuses on the weaknesses of people and their attempts to reach some type of satisfaction. This is as evident as ever in Synecdoche, New York. By becoming so fixated on leaving something incredible behind, Caden ignores the present. He effectively wastes his time and causes even more heartbreak for himself and others around him. This again reaches into Kaufman's nihilistic writing in which the ultimate question is asked: does anything actually matter at all? Leaving something behind doesn't stop the inevitable date of your death. And the numerous attempts to create something in life will again just result in the same outcome.
Though the above statement becomes more clear towards the end of the film, in which one of my favourite film quotes takes place:
While Kaufman's nihilistic writing does make reality seem rather pointless and bleak, it doesn't portray life as something you can treat in a right or wrong manner. The ultimate conclusion to life is that you choose what you make of it. Your time is yours, and while the destination at the end is the same for us all, the time now should be realised and enjoyed. Not in any overly grand manner; you don't have to run around aimlessly attempting to get affairs in order and leave something behind, but perhaps just be aware of the passing of time, and use it knowingly.
And with that, I will spend some of my finite time enjoying the new electric guitar that just arrived today.