Film Analysis: Synecdoche, New York

Film PosterThere are two main issues I want to address in this analysis: 1) the all-encompassing middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied male “I” 2)The creative process and expressing your life in creative works.

1) I’m so sick of hearing stories from the one perspective, from the intersection of everything that is “self” in our culture. A certain type of men always have their stories heard. I’m interested in diversity, not for the sake of so-called political correctness, but because I want to consume interesting, fresh, engaging creative works.

On one level, the issues Caden is dealing with — a feeling of inadequacy as a partner and a lover; a dissatisfaction with his creative output and process, and an all-pervading fear of death and decay — these issues have been dealt with before. But this film does take it to the next level.

When representation — both political and in media/entertainment — is of a certain type of person, we inevitably form a culture and society that caters to that one type of person. It is assumed that the needs and preferences of that one type are applicable to everyone. And so we have Tony Abbott saying that he believes empathy is more important than diversity in politics. As in, he can imagine what it’s like to be Indigenous or a woman, so he doesn’t need actual representatives from those groups making policy decisions.

This idea is addressed in the film — whether intentionally or not I don’t know. Caden wants to make a play that is about everything, including him. But what happens is that he makes a play where everyone is filtered through him to the extent that everyone is him. I think he even says something like that at some point — that he felt like he was everyone. Everywhere he looks he sees mirrors.

2. I have this recurring nightmare where I am trying to leave a place and I can’t. Everyone is dithering and we can’t reach escape velocity. I have had this feeling related to creative works. The best example from my life is the novel I’ve been working on for four years. Every time I think I’m almost finished, I find more and more work that needs doing on it. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that books are never finished, only abandoned. Caden’s play is so all-consuming that when it is long gone, he is left sitting in a barren wasteland, comforted by the one thing he wanted all along: an earpiece telling him how to live his life.

But Caden’s project is also all-consuming and boundary breaking because it is autobiographical. I have dabbled in memoir, and I guess the blog posts I write are a form of short-form memoir, some more so than others. When you use your own life in creative works, you can get into a weird space where you’re living your life, but you’re writing it in your head at the same time. It’s the opposite of mindfulness. The extreme blurring that happens between Caden’s “play” life and his “real” life is an extreme version of what is a common experience for people who do what Caden is doing.

I can’t say I enjoyed Synecdoche, New York. But I don’t regret watching it either. I recommend it if you feel like watching something engaging and more than a little messed up.


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