The Absurdist Philosophy Of Synecdoche, New York


I will be dying and so will you, and so will
everyone here. That’s what I want to explore. With Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman
has created a truly absurdist work of fiction. As we follow the journey of Caden Cotard,
Kaufman lets days pass in minutes; October 14; October 20th; a week becomes a year. A painter’s fame rises as her paintings
grow tinier, a woman buys a burning house
that will kill her decades later, and the play that will give meaning to it all
fades into oblivion. For French author and philosopher Albert Camus,
the human experience is fundamentally absurd. He observes how we spend most of our time
in ignorance or denial, living out our routines; eating, sleeping, interacting, struggling,
waiting; always hoping for tomorrow when things will be better, when we will figure it all out. But then a day comes when that rhythm is broken, when the absurdity of the world creeps into our soul and for a brief moment; we feel the void; the impermanence of all things, including ourselves. We’re all hurtling towards death, yet here
we are for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we’re going to die, each
of us secretly believing we won’t. The absurd is awakening;
A step lower and strangeness creeps in: perceiving that the world is ‘dense’, sensing to
what degree a stone is foreign and irreducible to us, with what intensity nature or a landscape
can negate us. At the heart of all beauty lies something
inhuman, and these hills, the softness of the sky, the outline of these trees at this
very minute lose the illusory meaning with which we had clothed them, henceforth more
remote than a lost paradise. The world becomes itself again, leaving our
heart in a desperate state of trying to reconnect itself to all the things that were so familiar
for so long. It is from this confrontation between the
human need for unity and understanding, and the unreasonable silence of the world,
that the absurd is born. Caden struggles to reconcile with this absurdity. He wants to make sense of it; get to the truth of it. The idea is to do a massive theater piece. Uncompromising and honest. Something big and true, and tough. But for Camus, this unrelenting desire for
reconciliation is the great mistake; it is an irrational leap at the end of what was
so far a rational observation of our condition. It is forced hope driven by human nostalgia,
which is why it never quite satisfies us. I won’t settle for anything less than the
brutal truth. Brutal. Brutal. Caden. What? When are we gonna get an audience in here? It’s been 17 years. Instead, Camus wants to find out it if it’s
possible to accept the absurd and to live with it as it is, and not bring in anything
that is not certain; I want to know whether I can live with what
I know and with that alone. – he writes. This does not mean embracing the absurd in
some quiet form of despair or passive acceptance, but rather he is interested in the choice
we have to really accept our fate. He refers to the myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods to push a rock to the top of a mountain, only to have it fall back down again, a task that was to be repeated for all of eternity. The gods deemed this pointless labor to be
the ultimate punishment, but as Camus points out: the story is only a tragic one when the
hero is conscious of his hopeless situation; Where would his torture be, indeed, if at
every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? It is therefore that Camus is specifically
interested in the moment when, after watching the stone rush down, Sisyphus begins his descent down that same slope where he will soon enough push his rock back up again. That hour like a breathing-space which returns
as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. He imagines the melancholy that must arise
in Sisyphus’ heart when his hope for salvation is annihilated by the awareness of his eternal damnation. But it is this same awareness that is capable of revolt; capable of turning that ultimate end into a source of strength and freedom; Outside of that single fatality of death, everything, joy or happiness, is liberty. This however is only achieved by abandoning
hope, by living without appeal. And to help us get to that place, Camus turns
his attention towards the artist who, unlike the philosopher; doesn’t seek to explain
or solve, but instead describes the absurd, lets us experience it; lets us feel it so
that we can come to terms with it. The theatre especially stands out to him because,
as he writes; The actor’s realm is that of the fleeting. – Within three hours he must experience
and express a whole exceptional life. In those three hours he travels the whole
course of the death-end path that the man in the audience takes a lifetime to cover. Try to keep in mind that a young person playing
Willie Loman thinks he’s only pretending to be at the end of
a life full of despair. But the tragedy is that we know that you, the young actor will end up in this very place of desolation. This, I believe, is where Charlie Kaufman
emerges as a rare example of absurdist artistry; creating a film without appeal;
a world without judgement, where our inevitable fate is made clear
from the very beginning; the burning house, the physical ailments, the cough that develops into lung cancer,
the tattoo that becomes poison. The end is built into the beginning. We see the paradox of Caden, being both aware
of his absurd fate, and yet completely ignorant towards the futility of achieving some form of absolution. He wants to make sense of his existence, but
by persistently clinging on to that hope, his life passes him by, leaving him in desperation
and disconnectedness, blinded by a self-centeredness that is only rarely breached by brief moments of genuine understanding. There are nearly 13 million people in the world, and none of those people is an extra. They’re all leads in their own stories. But as the lines between him and those around
him start to blur, as the same roles are played by different actors, and the same actors take on different parts; we are shown that there is no frontier between
being and appearing, it’s not just Caden’s journey, it’s ours as well; a struggle that continues until that one moment where it ends forever, where all our experiences and revelations disappear
back into nothingness. You have struggled into existence, and are
now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone’s experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter. Everyone’s everyone. It’s a story that gives the void its colors;
sheds light on the prison of our absurd condition, and in doing so, humanizes it. It teaches that all is not, has not been,
exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had
come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile sufferings. It makes of fate a human matter, which must
be settled among men. The rock that was a punishment of the gods
now becomes ours. By refusing to appeal to heavens and hells,
ultimate meanings and destinies; our fate becomes our own. Caden, everyone has to figure out their own
life, you know. And yes, as Caden faces the onslaught of suffering,
of funerals, of sickness and heartbreak, that contemplative walk down from the mountain
will likely be filled with grief, pain and regret. But that same descent can also take place
in joy. My heart aches so much for you. We are here Caden, I am here. Camus believes there’s a metaphysical honor
in enduring the world’s absurdity, and whenever we revolt, whenever we claim our freedom and make the most of what is given in this campaign in which we are defeated in advance, the universe will no longer be sterile nor futile. The struggle is enough to fill our hearts. We must imagine Caden happy.

100 comments

  1. I think the beauty of Synecdoche, New York lies in it being open to interpretation; open for you to give meaning to, and so the main goal of this video was not to give a beat by beat breakdown of the film, but rather provide a lens or perspective for you to take with you the next time (or maybe the first time) you watch this amazing film.

  2. Typical french philosopher absolutely consumed by their indulgence in nihilism. Yes, everything has an end, and so all that should do even for the realist is to not think that all that he sees in his day is meaningless/facade/etc. but that the fleetingness of beauty, love, innocence, truth all make it more profound and that they are there to be witnessed in that moment of consciousness and not toys that sit on the shelf of an otherwise meaningless existence

  3. I’ve been waiting for someone to connect Camus to this film, in detail. Glad it was you. Well done, as usual.

  4. I have had too many existential crises, especially starting around childhood, pondering what is the point of it all. My personal philosophy of life is evolving as I grow, but I think my purpose is to develop meaningful relationships with kind people, gain mastery over something so I can contribute to the world, regulate negative emotions and intentionally try to cultivate positive emotions, and try to be present and and appreciative of the finite existence I have. It's important to embrace the melancholy of how sometimes life doesn't make sense sometimes, and once those feelings are felt, attempting to find a positive spin to the meaning of things, whether it's celebrating beauty or the joy of human connection.

  5. if i was to die and be reborn…your wisdom, LSOO, would be the one thing i would pray to carry with me to the next life.

  6. I say cured not curated. Former frees us to take on life as it is, whether in sickness or in ill health, vigor or in frailty, success or in failure.

    Later turns the human race into a walking encyclipodia of disorders and diseases. Indexed and alphabetized (in multiple languages for the truly anal)

    Including the Kia Shu effect or Singapore Sling phobia – i.e. fear of being part of a family of shoes, used by other households to walk all over the place, before being tossed out like a pair of stinky runners. (all sunset industries?)

    Something that perceived victims can do nothing about (because they also suffer from the Bohsia effect maybe), except hope wearers get bunions, that gets so infected the only cure is amputation?

    Is this why actors wish each other "break a leg" before every performance? So they always have a ready supply of captive audience members?

    In any case, fear of failure, inability to verbalize fears, fear of abandonment, hypochondria maybe, polyglotal paranoia, fear of criticism, signs of vindictiveness and malice, tendency towards emotionally manipulation maybe

    And also problems with only hearing what propagators have been attuned to hear – i.e. what suits them or what they have been primed to respond to?

    Luckily virtually no one looks for the meaning of life in books and movies anymore.

    Although hard to estimate the damage that has already been done…..

    In the last 100 years if we're talking about cinema, 300 years if we're talking about novels, or 600 years if we want to go all the way back to the Gutenberg Press and the first mass produced bibles.

    Stern warning on the dangers of fibbers, yarn spinners, and dream weavers is it? And we find ourselves right back in Fahrenheit 451territory.

    Burning books as scape goat offering in lieu of the true offender, ourselves and our own stink. That we desperately strive to escape from, with every new movie, product, venture

  7. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    Romans 6:23

    "This is clear"

  8. The Myth of Sisyphus "Essays by Albert Camus"
    only of my favs as well as the Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

  9. Also very reminiscent of Heidegger and Nietzsche. Very nice video essay. Keep'em coming. Would love to collab with you sometime.

  10. You sir, are doing an amazing job. Not only is the myth of Sisyphus my all time favorite, but Camus interpretation of it had a massive impact on my life. I really appreciate the work you do and it continues to inspire me to try writing even though I don’t think I have any talent for it hehe. If our paths ever cross, I wanna buy you a beer 😉

  11. This film makes me re-experience, and reflect on my own life. Powerful film, both life-affirming and existential- in equal parts. With Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, there is an additional layer to contemplate and I feel that with time, this story will remain timeless.

  12. One of the greatest films in recent memory, I find new meaning in it every time I see it. I've often even considered revisiting the film as a subject for a new video, as my views have continually morphed and evolved as life changes around me. I think you did a beautiful job of not nailing everything down as fact, but sort of guiding people in the right direction. Charlie Kaufman's work is so powerful because it's able to connect with people in ways that few movies can, and more importantly, the movie begins to take the shape of our own perceptions, it's like each one of his films is an infinite number of films built into one. Everyone walks away with something different, each time they see it, and I really can't think of any other screenwriter capable of producing such thought provoking work.

    Congrats on 80,000 subscribers by the way!

  13. i had to love this film for itsfixation on the meta-level. i simply love to think like that "about" thinks, instead of thinking "through" them – in this case it is pushed to the absurd, and is itself shown as an absurd act, too many levels of meta-thinking, with no core inside of them. a synecdoche about a synecdoche – nothing behind it (nothing but new york, which can probably at best be understood as a symbol for "this is the experience of many, of all of us." or maybe just of life, since the lifes of the main characters are taking place in new york.)

  14. My 3 year, real love, relationship just ended. Went to hang out with a really cool, really hot, 18 year old chick. (I was like 20) She put on Synecdoche, New York and I was pretty much blown away. (Saying, 'Yeah, I'll definitely be watching this one again.' 😉

  15. What a coincidence! I'm nearly through reading The Myth of Sisyphus, but never saw this movie. It's interesting to see Camus' philosophy applied, or at least used for interpretation.
    I like Camus' absurd consideration of actors, thus explaining how the best have to act.

  16. great essay! i absolutely adore this film, its my favorite of all time (I love using a Camus-inspired lens for Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes and Herzog's Stroszek too)

  17. That ending had me welling up, I consider your content an enlightening part of my own human experience LSOO, please keep doing your thing

  18. Amazing job as always. Really.

    Speaking of "open to interpretation"… do you have ever seen Koyaanisqatsi by Godfrey Reggio?
    I know it's not a conventional movie at all, it's un-personal yet it remain quite deep in terms of meaning…
    Regarding your format, it could be a challenge 🙂

  19. Took me three days from your realese to watch the movie.

    As always,
    Thank you for the recommendation,
    Thank you for the prespective.

    P.s:
    Started reading Seneca,
    Partly because of you,
    Again – thank you.
    Love.

  20. Amazing video and brilliant analysis Like Stories of Old, in my opinion you should do your next one on the following film: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Time_Machine_(2002_film)

    Thanks for your time and efforts!

  21. Beautiful and insightful as all your other videos. Question: What is the name of the painting/image at 4:25?

  22. Hey, it'd be amazing if you could review the movie "Say Anything" it's a similar romance to Before Sunrise, where a guy falls for a girl who's leaving to study in England in 3 months.

  23. Can you do a video on the Archetype of a soldier, I’m going into the US Army id be interested in a video. I love the concepts of many your videos keep it up.

  24. Jon Brion's Little Person seems to hint at the salvation that Caden needed. The entire length of the song plays when Caden first courts Hazel (or vice versa). The answer to the unanswerable question of existence is to be found in the moments that matter.

  25. Can I just say that ever since I found your channel I have been completely in awe with it. Your videos are not only beautiful but also so extremely well put together! I would love for you to analyze La Grande Bellezza by Sorrentino. I am now writing an essay on Camus and this film and I would love to hear your thoughts.

  26. The fact that Philip Seymour Hoffman died in real life just makes the movie even more painfully real. In some parts it feels like he wasn't even acting and that he was living out his real troubled life on screen. Its unfortunate that this film is the only way we can see what Hoffman might have looked like as he aged. He was truly one of the best actors of his generation

  27. I still dont understand wtf happened to his daughter and her mother. Also how did he get the money to build a fake new york and pay all those people for the rest of his life? What the hell, it starts like a normal movie then it keeps escalating out of control, why doesnt he realize how much time is passing?

  28. I gained access to this movie, after watching your analysis and thoughts. The movie has been sitting there, as if I weren't ready for it. I am both tempted and afraid that I am not ready, exhausted by life commitments. No, I need to find time, time for myself. Thank you for reminding me that.

  29. who likes sitting around on the ground when you can sit up in the sky? right> ok go is my supreme overlord

  30. Synecdoche, New York is one of those art works, like Waiting for Godot or Au Hasard Balthazar that leaves you almost stunned by its brilliance, even if you are not entirely sure what you just witnessed. In many ways this is my favorite film of all time. I have had "The Myth of Sisyphus" on the shelf for years and you have inspired me to finally pick it up and read it. Terrific work, very thoughtful, much appreciated.

  31. Let it be said of me that my blood runs contrary to that of the heathen. My boast over the materialist is a nimble recovery from infection. The godless is dispossessed of strong lungs. There is a constant rattling of pneumonia in his melancholy speech. Often times my jottings can be knitted to his patchwork quilt of brooding dissolutionment. However, my momentary bouts of despair are always mood and never an actual inference. How can the alchemical ape feel himself to be a force more powerful than death when he looks to the tree as a first home. Only that saint understands that he is an implant. He is nothing like any of the creatures that inhabit the earth. The chasm that divides the solitary flower of man from the bush of lesser biodiversity would take twelve oceans to fill.

    There is a corollary to all of man's yearnings. The drive for food, sex, and companionship are met with banquets, bed chambers, and festivals. He reaches past base fulfillment toward a political variety. He longs for a control of organizational rule gifted by an adoring populace. He longs for a power that is not obtained by brutality and it does exist. He wishes to enact justice by revenging crimes against innocence. The discord of a society rife with violence swirls with spectors that can only be exercised by a ruler smart enough to cut off the godless from his table. His equity is no respecter of persons. He anoints the calaced and delicate hand with the same oil in the establishment the peace.

    The yearning of divinity and eternity is an appetite that has not been assuage by a pesky modernity that brims with technological advances. Tragedy is drives the heathen to stupid conclusions of meaninglessness. Since when did the car crash of a voter invalidate an election? Has the drowning of bachelor ever dissolve a marriage? Has the death of a legislator ever reversed any of the amendments of the constitution? The brotherhood of saints scoff at the thin skin of heathens. It is a form of comedy for us.

  32. When you think about it, Synecdoche is the Final Destination that critics want to see: a man, knowing he’s going to die, reflecting on death.

  33. I find Kauffman's movies unutterably wearisome and pretentious. His arrival for me marked the final death spiral of 'Hollywood'.
    I guess that people who find his work 'deep' have not read great literature or philosophy or history…

  34. Excellent guidance..mate..plz make a video on Denis Villeneuve directed Enemy(2013)-it is a very ambiguous film to understand and interpret..plz

  35. Beautiful interpretation. I was not a fan of this movie but you managed to find the best parts that made this movie not terrible. Again, keep making great videos and philosophising – your channel is by far my favourite

  36. Your video begins with a gray screen, and ends with a gray screen, just like "Synecdoche, New York". Coincidence?
    Just like Hazel said: "The end is built into the beginning". Very meta boi

  37. “That final moment when all of our experiences and revelations disappear into nothing.” So true. All the knowledge, wisdom, growth we obtain throughout our life ultimately is gone in an instant. So use it as best you can while you can, pass it along to those around you by allowing it to guide who you are and how you interact with others—be an example.

  38. The movie to me was about mental illness, the fragility of life, the importance of love, and the disposable nature of humans in the modern world. Most importantly it's about communication barriers. Nobody truly will understand you, except for you, and even more, the isolation we all experience. People come and go, but you will never leave yourself, until you do. Then it's all over. And that's the saddest part.

    Most of the people he is speaking to are projections. He is alone. He has no family. The movie is heartbreaking.

  39. Life is meaningless without God and life after death. If only it is your hope your life will fill with meaning. God does not take away pain but gives it meaning.

  40. This is actually my favorite film of all time, i've watched it time and time again- in different states of thought, and love what i grab from it.

  41. Beautiful work LSOO. This movie obliterated many constructs in my mind. And It definitely made me look places in my mind I didn't know or didn't want to know.

  42. Wow, just wow. This is a seriously a great video and frankly a meticulous but concise analysis of Kaufman's masterpiece. You really deserve more subs, but anyways you've just got yourself a fan 🙂 keep up the great videos!

  43. 8:42 "in this campaign in which we are defeated in advance." So so true. Our lives are all finite and we all ultimately lose the battle against death and entropy.

    But I like how Camus offers a way out, somewhat: "whenever we claim our freedom and make the most of what is given…"

    I, as I'm sure many who are watching this video, have struggled with coping with the existential weight of finding "meaning" I'm this absurd situation we call life. But here's what I realized after wasting far too much time in my youth contemplating it: it is precisely because life is short and finite that we have an obligation to make the most of the little time we've been gifted. Because say you're 25 today. Barring any disease or car collision, you will wake up one day and be 35. And you will not believe it. How did this happen?! Where did ten years go?!!! But they do. Very sneaky, but the years do go by. You won't believe or appreciate it until one day it happens.

  44. Also, I couldn't help find similarities between this film and the infamous Tears in the Rain monologue in Blade Runner. Perhaps that is why life is so traggic: each person's life has accumulated countless memories and love and unique experiences, and when we die, all of these experiences and special and unique loves between that individual and another… all those unique fingerprints are lost. Forever. How many people's unique memories have been permanently lost upon their death? Literally entire lifetimes of stories and ideas and memories and inside jokes — all of them vanish, never to be experienced exactly the same way again. Perhaps it is this loss of information and uniqueness that makes death such a tragedy.

  45. It's like a life-sentence inmate who knows that he is going to be imprisoned for life vs an inmate who is imprisoned for life but believes that he could be let out any day.

  46. I genuinely don't have a high enough IQ for this film.

    You mentioned some really great ideas being presented here analyzing the themes quite well but you didn't talk about how confusing some of the things in this movie are. Why Hazel lives in a literal burning house for decades, what's the situation with Ellen, how the funding of this play is happening over decades spending all this money for years, how a fake city was built in a theatre and why there is a blimp in there, why people continue to audition for a play that is clearly going nowhere, how and why was Sammy literally stalking Caden for 20 years, what's the situation with black people wearing gas masks, the homosexuality thing with Eric, Olive's love for her nanny, where Caden goes for so many years to "sleep" i guess when the whole theatre goes down the drain. I have so so many questions.

  47. The main theme of this movie is that everybody sad they're going to die because their families are broken and nobody that they really care about or love is around. The city itself is the bad guy in this movie. it keeps everybody from becoming connected to each other by tricking them into thinking they can succeed at anything meaningful in a city.

  48. I think people are thinking too deep into it about it have no meaning, the very last scene pretty much explains everything that its about. "What was once before you – an exciting, mysterious future – is now behind you. Lived; understood; disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence, and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone's experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter. Everyone's everyone. So you are Adele, Hazel, Claire, Olive. You are Ellen. All her meager sadnesses are yours; all her loneliness; the gray, straw-like hair; her red raw hands. It's yours. It is time for you to understand this. " We all have the same general experience, the same general anxieties, worries, the same "existence". That last line about "it is time for you to understand this" is a clarifying message imo about the purpose and intent of the movie. We arnt anybody, we are everybody.

Leave a Reply

(*) Required, Your email will not be published