the genius of charlie kaufman

Charlie Kaufman is a screenplay writer who has written movies such as Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich. He has also directed his screenplays in Synecdoche New York and Anomalisa.

Kaufman films contain some of the most complex and intriguing stories in contemporary cinema. Through his uncompromising writing his films explore love, death, depression loneliness in refreshing way, making his films some of the most entertaining pieces of media produced.

The most recognisable Kaufman film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind featuring Jim Carey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood and Mark Ruffalo. The story follows a failing relationship and as it turns sour, the couple undergo a medical procedure to have each other erased from their memories.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind explores the depths of a doomed relationship and deconstructs the ideas of memory. Throughout the film as the procedure is carried out the experiences of the relationship are recollected as the couple participate in past memories, yet as the relationship falters, memories start to be deleted. As the partners try to keep their past alive the world around them fades away pushing the film in a daunting direction as they desperately try to cling on to the past.

Kaufman manages to use the possibilities of cinema to the fullest, throughout the film the theme of relationships are explored in a way that confronts your own experiences and makes you question your own past. Through Kaufman’s genius writing the end of the film is written into the beginning with the film with reality and the dream world being covertly exchanged as the narrative climaxes. The ending is beautifully written not explicitly concluding with an emotion that you’re meant to feel, it is instead left to the viewers own perception making the film so much more impactful. Kaufman steps out of convention compared to usual love movies, we are only fed fragments of information about the relationship, forcing the viewers to have to follow the path of the main character. Kaufman creates a forced involvement and investment into his characters making you empathise with the relationship and in so captivating cinema in such an expressive way.

Adaptation is another Kaufman screenplay that is expertly written. Writing himself into the film he is played by Nicholas Cage who also plays Kaufman’s twin. This film is constructed in a completely meta way, as Kaufman begins the film on the set on another film he wrote (Being John Malkovich). Kaufman manages to adapt a book called ‘The Orchid Thief’ into the film, which is about himself failing to adapt the book for the screen. The book details the story of rare orchid hunter, whose passion for orchids and horticulture made Orlean (the writer of the orchid thief) discover passion and beauty for the first time in her life. Charlie wants to be faithful to the book in his adaptation yet runs into difficulty finding enough material to fill a movie, while equally not having enough to say cinematically about the beauty of orchids. At the same time, Charlie is going through other issues in his life with his anxieties been shown in such an honest way (video below). This film is an exploration of Kaufman and his writing process and how he is able to create such amazing screenplays.

This film shows the talent of Kaufman in a way that has not been reached by any other screenwriter, the way he manages to write a screenplay around himself not being able to write is masterful. He places his insecurities on show which makes him relatable and even more of an inspiration as he is not afraid to convey his real emotions instead of trying to come off as a different person.

Synecdoche New York is the most impactful film I have ever seen. This is my favourite film for so many reasons, the unflinching brutal honesty written into the film emotionally destroys me everytime I watch it, it’s an expression of all the loneliness, death, depression and other sad stuff in a way that has not been expressed in cinema on a similar level.

Synecdoche New York follows the story of a playwright named Caden Cotard who wins a MacArthur Grant that enables him to put together the production of his dreams. However, his wife Adele and daughter Olive leave him while he begins experiencing numerous alarming physical ailments that cause him great anxiety over his own mortality. Caden assembles a troupe of actors in a large warehouse to develop his play. 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. Caden grows into an old man and his warehouse production becomes a universe unto itself with doubles playing the role of actors playing the role of people from his life.

Kaufman uses the film to portray the ideas that we perceive other people as characters, yet each person is complex and has their own stories. This film uses absurdity for humour but to also highlight the trials of relationships, and how loneliness impacts people’s interactions. Through the idea of theatre play the complexity of the story is able to keep expanding. This allows for characters to develop as their lives spiral into madness which displays their insecurities in a very human way.

Synecdoche, New York is truly an amazing film and so much can be written about it! If you ever have the time definitely watch it!

Written by Joel Butterworth

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