Playwright Caden Cotard loses his family just as he wins a MacArthur Grant, enabling him to put together the production of his dreams. Caden Cotard earns his living as a playwright and director. He has a wife, Adele, and daughter, Olive and is able to make a fair living at his craft. He begins experiencing numerous alarming physical ailments that cause him great anxiety over his own mortality. He suspects that his wife may be having an affair with her female friend, Maria, when he comes home unexpectedly one night and finds the two drunk and stoned acting suspiciously. Adele does leave him soon after, journeying with Maria and Olive to Berlin. Caden is shaken, but his luck turns abruptly when he receives a MacArthur Fellowship grant, a lifelong recurring financial reward given by anonymous donors to artists and creatives to fund their creation of truly great work.
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Caden assembles a troupe of actors in a large warehouse to develop his magnum opus, an incredibly detailed portrayal of life in all its complexity. Time passes quickly, and the warehouse becomes a mirror of the outside world, with lookalikes playing the roles of people in Caden's life, including a doppelganger for Caden himself. Cotard's outside life is a shambles. His bizarre disease is slowly turning off vital bodily processes and he fears that Olive is being raised in questionable circumstances, under the influence of Maria. He visits his daughter in dreamlike sequences where she is seen dancing onstage, naked and tattooed. Later he visits her as she dies of cancer in the hospital. As this story line develops, Cotard forms a strange relationship with Hazel, the woman who works his theater's ticket booth. Their relationship never gels into something steady and warm. The aging Hazel buys her first home, a house that appears to be perpetually on fire. This causes her some concern but doesn't prevent her from moving in.
Caden grows into an old man. His warehouse production has become a universe unto itself with doubles playing the role of actors playing the role of people from his life. He passes off direction duties to a young actress and takes on the role of an old cleaning woman, following directorial instruction through an ear piece he wears. Broken and fading, Caden feels he is finally coming to terms with his life, just as the director speaks her last instruction into his ear, "Die".
Best part of story, including ending:
This movie is very creative visually, structurally, and as a piece of writing. It has a lot of true things to say, but is a major bummer despite being very funny at time. It is enjoyable and difficult at the same time.
Best scene in story:
The warehouse is incredibly surreal and immersive. It's like nothing I've ever seen in a movie before. As it grows it becomes this bizarre dream place.
Opinion about the main character:
Caden is miserable by nature and can't change. This seems to be the premise of the film, that you are who you are and that's it. It's a disturbing thought and Caden is troubling for this reason.