Synecdoche upsets critics

A new film has just been released in the US (2009), which is annoying the critics because its title uses a difficult word with difficult pronunciation. The film is Synecdoche, New York. Pronounce it something like: sin-NECK-dock-ee.

IMDb describes the plot as:

Theater director Caden Cotard is mounting a new play … determined to create a piece of brutal realism and honesty, something into which he can put his whole self, he gathers an ensemble cast into a warehouse in Manhattan’s theater district. He directs them in a celebration of the mundane, instructing each to live out their constructed lives in a small mock-up of the city outside. As the city inside the warehouse grows, Caden’s own life veers wildly off the tracks. … Populating the cast and crew with doppelgangers, he steadily blurs the line between the world of the play and that of his own deteriorating reality.

Although the name may have annoyed the critics the plot rather annoyed me. It seemed to cross into a surreality which I failed to understand.

According to the summaries on Rotten Tomatoes the critics were mixed. The Tomatometer gave it 69%.

Richard Propes saying “for those who are true cineastes, connoisseurs of cinema who seek more than easy answers, paint-by-number plots and happy endings” … not me then.

Dennis Harvey suggests “Insufferable auteurist navel-gazing, its “postmodernism” all empty gimmickry to hide an utterly hollow center …” … perhaps with some confirmation bias I am more prone to this view.

Anyway, if synecdoche is to become more well known we should also know what it means. It is a figure of speech where there is a deliberate confusion of scale:

  • a part is used for the whole (use muscle for thugs);

  • the whole for a part (media for a journalist);

  • the specific for the general (cutthroat for assassin),

  • the general for the specific (creature for a man); or

  • the name of the material for the thing made (canvas for tent).

Which explains the relevance of the title of the film if not how you should enjoy it.