Film Highlight: Synecdoche, New York

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Caden Cotard in <i>Synecdoche, New York</i>

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Caden Cotard in Synecdoche, New York

If you traveled the length of John Malkovich's medulla oblongata and walked through the adjoining door of the interstellar hotel room at the end of 2001, you might end up somewhere in the vicinity of Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York—a two-hour thrill ride so deep into the eternal gloom of its writer and (first-time) director's spotted mind that the Kaufman-scripted Adaptation seems, by comparison, a sun-drenched landscape epic. Like that film, Synecdoche is a partly confessional, partly satirical investigation into the creative process, this time with the reliably excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman as self-absorbed regional theater director Caden Cotard, who wins a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and sets about staging his autobiographical magnum opus. Much of the film unfolds in the giant New York City warehouse where Cotard and his army of willing collaborators endlessly rehearse his play about "everything," complete with an actor playing Cotard and yet another actor playing that actor. The results are Kaufman at 200 proof, cramming every idea he's ever had about life, art, and that enigma whose name is woman into a single, totemic work. That makes for a sometimes-unruly affair, but one that's as audacious as anything I've seen on a movie screen this year.