On Kaufman


Consciousness is a terrible curse. I think, I feel, I suffer.

I woke up this morning with a strong urge to write a short piece on Charlie Kaufman; screenwriter extraordinaire. (This is a prelude, a practice exercise if you will for another essay on Kaufman I’ll be writing soon for…academic (sic) purposes.)

Charlie Kaufman for the uninitiated is the genius behind such gems as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His stories all have immensely relatable characters going through bizarre situations that blur the lines between reality and fantasy.

No writer manages to capture my imagination like he does. His themes are both extremely poignant from an existential point of view as well as the metaphysical; the existence of the soul/conscience, the importance of the self, the meaning of love, life and the likes. Fortunately for Kaufman, his ideas have been perfectly brought alive to the screen by the directors he worked with namely Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze.


In spite of the fantastic nature of his plots, Kaufman’s characters are grounded in reality in a very literal way. For example, Being John Malkovich has the actor John Malkovich find out the people have been misusing a portal into his head. Adaptation is the story of a writer, Charlie Kaufman who has a hard time adapting a book into a film and so decides to adapt himself into the story. His stories deal with the subconscious (as seen in pivotal moments in Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich), the importance of memory and the significance of events we witness as impressionable children. All his films seem to echo the thoughts of the character Craig Scwartz (from Being John Malkovich),

Do you know what a metaphysical can of worms this is?

What is so amazing about Kaufman is his ability to take risks with his characters and the medium which in essence contribute to the originality he’s been praised for. Apart from creating relatable but eccentric characters, Kaufman has an amazing control over structure which I for one consider to be his greatest strength. For example, Eternal Sunshine starts at the end and ends at the beginning. Sure, you’ve had stories like that but this technique proves imperative for Kaufman’s story. It wouldn’t have worked any other way.

No doubt he’s one of the finest writers today whose medium simply happens to be cinema. His ideas on the surface seem like a playful cerebral exercise but if you probe a little deeper through the tangled web of ego (mostly self loathing) and imagination, you find out that he ponders on some of the most important existential problems humanity has faced since time immemorial.

Sadly Kaufman lacks contemporaries today or at least writers of his ilk that I know of (except maybe for Vonnegut; and I’ve read very little Vonnegut) and hence it turns out to be difficult to quantify and compare the talent involved here. That may not be such a bad thing however.


[Note: Picture sourced from http://www.beingcharliekaufman.com]


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