This is one of the best films ever made. The combination of Charlie Kaufman's brilliant story and the incredible acting by Philip Seymour Hoffman make it the perfect film. It's difficult to believe that it flopped at the box office. It cost $20 million to make and only earned $4 million. Roger Ebert called it the best film of the decade, and many other film critics said it was the best film of 2008. So what went wrong?
Maybe the film is just too complex for the average popcorn-munching movie-goer. The following review contains some spoilers, but not too many to prevent you enjoying the film after reading it. Make your own mind up whether you want to carry on reading after the picture below.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden Cotard, a New York playwright who thinks he's dying. He is convinced that he has cancer, that he's going blind and that he's having epileptic fits. The first time I watched the film I believed he really was ill, since we see blood in his stool, but after seeing it again I realised he was imagining it, he's only a malade imaginaire. Ironically, at the end of the film he's one of the last people left alive in a city of corpses.
Caden's wife Adele is a world famous artist who paints miniature pictures that can only be seen through a magnifying glass. At the beginning of the film she leaves Caden and goes to live in Berlin with their 4-year-old daughter, Olive. Shortly after this Caden's skills as a playwright are acknowledged by him being awarded a grant which is big enough for him to make the most extravagant play ever performed. He buys an enormous warehouse in which he rebuilds New York and gathers a cast around himself to make a play about his own life. Each day, as things happen to him, he adds new events to the play. After 17 years of rehearsing the cast members complain that he's still not finished and ready to invite an audience, but he asks them to persevere. After that the film doesn't give any details about the passing of time, but my guess is that he works on the play for at least 40 years.
During this time Caden has an affair with Hazel, a box office girl who he later promotes to producer. He gets married again to Claire, an actress. These are events featured in his play, so he has to hire actors to play himself and Hazel, but he asks Claire to play herself, much to her distress when the other Caden is touching her. The actor playing Caden makes a play about his own life, so he builds a warehouse inside the warehouse to use for a large scale play. After about 20 years Adele returns to New York. Caden goes to visit her apartment, but she isn't at home. A neighbour mistakes him for the cleaning lady, Ellen, and gives him the key. Over the next months (or is it years?) he visits Adele's apartment every time she goes out and cleans it for her. This too is featured in his play, although he uses a real woman to play Ellen. When the actor playing Caden commits suicide, Caden decides to give up directing the play and become the actor playing himself. The actress who had been playing Ellen takes his place directing the play, and she orders all of his actions, both inside the play and in the real world.
Whooo! Is that confusing? Yes. Is it brilliant? Yes.
|Caden and Caden and Hazel and Hazel|