Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman makes his directorial debut with Synecdoche, New York, which means his artistic self-doubt, romantic pessimism and emotional nihilism is completely unfiltered. Kaufman’s stand-in/hero is Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a theater director in Schenectady, New York, whose self-pity and hypochondria lead to a separation from his exhausted wife (Catherine Keener) and dazed daughter (Sadie Goldstein).
Left on his own, Caden descends into a series of mental rabbit holes, in which his increasingly miserable life flashes forward by the decades while he mounts a gargantuan stage production based on – you guessed it – his miserable life. The movie’s ultimate goal is to capture, communicate and understand severe psychological malaise, which it does all too well. You leave the picture fully convinced that life disappoints, then you die.