Briefly, Jung believed that the world is little more than a projection of the self, and that everything we experience reveals pieces of who we are.


Jung felt that analysis of both our waking and dream states is necessary in the quest for meaning, and Kaufman presents Caden’s existence as a blending of the two. From middle-age onwards, our quest for meaning and self-realization — the completion and integration of the personality — becomes the top priority. It’s a deeply introspective period when we try to find meaning in both our life and our death. Failure to find such meaning can lead to pathological aging, which is exactly what Caden experiences through the onset of physiological symptoms of all sorts. (Symptoms which, interestingly enough, disappear after Caden begins his Über-project.)


There are four stages to the individuation process, all of which Caden goes through:


  1. Becoming conscious of the shadow. The shadow possesses those characteristics of the ego that we tend to push aside — our dark places, our weaknesses, fears, hidden desires, etc. The shadow normally appears in dreams, but inSynecdoche he exits in Caden’s construct of reality in the form of Sammy Barnathan (Tom Noonan), who has been observing Caden for over twenty years. Yet instead of integrating the shadow into his persona, Caden lets it run loose, where it eventually becomes more him than him (in that Sammy begins a successful affair with Hazel, something Caden could never do.) Sammy’s death can, perhaps, be seen as Caden finally coming to terms with his shadow, though killing it might not have been the wisest choice.
  2. Becoming conscious of the anima/animus. Jung believes it is critical that we locate traits of the opposite gender within us. For men, that requires an acceptance of the anima, or female psychological tendencies. Once again we see it manifesting itself not in Caden’s persona, but in his “real” world. It begins with several occurrences of people mistaking Caden for a woman, which is odd as there’s nothing visible/audible that should cause that confusion. Then, like Sammy, Caden’s anima appears as Millicent Weems/Ellen Bascomb (Dianne Wiest), though this time Caden takes it one step further than the shadow and actually trades places with her. This leads to the third stage:
  3. Becoming conscious of the archetypal spirit. In our waning years, Jung believes we begin to take on “mana personalities”, which are associated with the archetypes of the wise-old man and the earth mother. Yet in Caden’s case, he hasn’t let go of the anima, for though he is now an old man, he takes on a female role, and assumes the identity of the cleaning woman Ellen Bascomb.
  4. The final stage of the individuation process is self-realization, which requires the proper relationship between the ego and the self. One could argue either way as to whether or not Caden successfully reaches this stage. For whereas he has learned a bit more about life and love (albeit too late), his failure to live has left him an empty shell who functions only on orders spoken to him by his anima. (Get up, eat, say thank you, etc.) Even his death has to come via prompting — it’s a stage direction, neither peaceful nor harmonious. (This is another of the film’s great tragedies that caused me all sorts of unrest.)


The individuation process is about the uniting of opposites — good and evil, masculine and feminine, matter and spirit, body and psyche. There’s no question that Caden undertakes the journey, but he fails to become an individual, both literally and psychologically. Caden treats his life (both the conscious and unconscious elements) like a stage play, yet his attempt at directing from an omniscient position robs him of (in alchemical terms) the prima materia required for one to be a person.


As for synchronicity, the film is full of seemingly inexplicable but meaningful coincidences — phrases repeated, mirroring actions, etc. Jung believed that synchronicity occurs when the order of things is not as usual, when “a causality which presupposes space and time for its continuance can no longer be said to exist and becomes altogether unthinkable.” Events in the mind become indiscernible from those in the real world. Is this not what Kaufman presents to us, from the very first scene? There is a patterning of events that are joined not by time, but by meaning alone. Yet Caden suffers from an inability to determine the meaning behind these events, and their connection to both his unconscious psyche and the outer world. To do so requires what Jung called a consolidated ego, something Caden clearly doesn’t possess.