Obsession and identity are recurring themes in screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work, and he draws on them again in his directorial debut, SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK. Kaufman's film focuses on the wiles of Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a regional theatre director who has won a MacArthur grant to help produce his next project. Cotard's artist wife, Adele Lack (Catherine Keener), subsequently departs with their daughter to Berlin, and he begins a flirtation with box office clerk Hazel (Samantha Morton). Much of the movie revolves around Cotard's ambitious next project, based around his life, which is being constructed in an enormous industrial space in New York City. As the years pass and the project is mired in endless rehearsals that replicate Cotard's existence, the tortured director obsesses over Adele, Hazel, his daughter, his health, and myriad other topics.
The complex and often highly inventive narrative of SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK is typical of Kaufman's screenplays for features such as BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION. The film draws heavily on the kind of visual trickery that director Spike Jonze has often used in his adaptations of Kaufman's works, and features a strong performance from Hoffman as Cotard. Occasionally the film is abstract and surreal: Hazel lives in a house that is permanently on fire, while the actors Cotard casts in his play often blur the lines between fantasy and reality. Moviegoers will theorize about the true meaning behind Kaufman's feature: it offers no easy answers. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK is a film that requires as much work from its viewers as it does from the resolutely excellent cast that brought it to life, and as the film careers from hilarity to sadness in the blink of an eye, there's little doubt that this is another superlative entry in Kaufman's canon.