This comes to us from Mockingbird contributor Ron Flowers:

syn·ec·do·che
: A figure of speech in which (among others) a part is used for the whole.

Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Synecdoche, New York

The film was Charlie Kaufmann’s (writer of Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind among others) answer to Sony’s request that he direct a horror film. I’m guessing that the result was not what Sony had in mind, but I think I get the point. SNY traces reality through the life of Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) from his late 30s to his elderly years. As the film begins, Caden is overseeing final rehearsals for his portrayal of Death of a Salesman using only young actors, because, as he addresses his lead actor:

Try to keep in mind that a young
person playing Willy 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.

Caden has been there. He spends his time fretting over news stories and real and imagined ailments, preoccupied by death, while his wife (Catherine Keener), after revealing she fantasized about Caden dying and starting over again guilt free, abandons him with their four-year old daughter to pursue her art career in Germany.

Death of a Salesman earns Caden a MacArthur Genius Grant. In reaction to his wife’s and father’s criticism that he was wasting his time staging others’ work, Caden explains to his therapist his vision for his next project:

CADEN
A theater piece. Something big and
true and tough. Y’know, finally
put my real self into something.
MADELINE
Oh, Caden! What is your real
self, do you think?
CADEN
I don’t know yet. The
MacArthur is called “the
genius grant.” And I want to
earn it.
And later to the cast:
CADEN
We are all hurtling toward death.
(silence)
Yet here we are, for the moment,
alive. Each of us knowing we will
die; each of us secretly believing
we won’t.

Caden attempts to create a play which displays the truth about himself. He yearns to be loved as his true self, but he is constantly preoccupied by the past and the future. To hide the pain, he develops alternate identities who develop their own alternate identities. His play becomes a synecdoche for his life as he shuts off scenes he cannot bear. Death comes quickly (seemingly) and tragically for other characters, but for Caden, it is agonizingly slow.

CADEN
My heart aches so much for you.
HAZEL
We’re here, Caden. I’m here.
CADEN
I’m aching for it being over.
HAZEL
Yeah. The end is built in to the
beginning. What can you do?

Its reviews were somewhat mixed (perhaps because clarity was not its intent), but some critics, particularly Manohla Dargis, and Roger Ebert (who named it the best film of the decade), appreciated its insight.

The film reeks of empathy. In fear of oversimplifying, Caden is a pathetic synecdoche for all of us. We are all fundamentally the same when it comes to death. We all strive for glory and love. We seek truth with a blindfold. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. If we recognize that we are all Caden Cotard, only then we can love the other Cadens out there. Without grace, Caden’s world is all we are left with – as Caden’s play concludes at one time:

Most of your time is spent being
*
dead or not yet born. But while
*
alive, you wait in vain, wasting
*
years, for a phone call or a letter
*
or a look from someone or something
*
to make it all right. And it never
*
comes or it seems to but doesn’t
*
really. And so you spend your time
*
in vague regret or vaguer hope for
*
something good to come along.
*
Something to make you feel
*
connected, to make you feel whole,
*
to make you feel loved.

Romans 3:11: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.