Ode to Charlie Kaufmann

Every now and then you read/ watch stories that are just so unique, creative, odd and freakishly brilliant that you sit up straight.

This is the case when you watch a Charlie Kaufman movie.

Screenwriter for Being John Malkovich [1999], Adaptation [2002] Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004], and more, his stories explore the surreal, and often absurd inner worlds of artists and loners.

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Being John Malkovich, his first major success, is perhaps also his most bizarre and most genius work. It  features a down on his luck puppeteer, Craig, who discovers a secret portal into John Malkovich’s mind, on the 7 1/2 floor of his workplace. Chaos ensues when he begins to tell others of the portal and begins to sell access to it. Craig, uses the portal to live vicariously the life of a successful artist; however, the discovery that the portal can be used to prolong one’s life signals the beginning of the end for this over-reaching mortal.

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Adaptation tells of Kaufmann’s own experience attempting to write a screenplay of The Orchid Thief. Originally Kaufmann suffered writer’s block on the project, and instead used the experience to later write Adaptation. In the retelling,  Kaufmann added a fictional twin brother Donald, obsessed with screenwriting a block buster screenplay. Charlie, determined to be true to his art-form suffers terrible writer’s block while Donald succeeds in selling a six or seven figure script for a cliched psychological thriller. The film is full of angst and self-examination about art, success and the self loathing and jealousy involved in creating commercial work.

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The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind tells the tale of Joel and Clementine, two strangers who meet on a train and are immediately drawn to one another. Through flashbacks, we learn that the pair are ex-lovers who after a break up, underwent a  procedure to erase their memories. We see Joel even while unconscious, battling against the procedure and attempting to hide memories of Clementine in the recesses of his mind. As each memory is subsequently erased, we learn that the technician delivering the procedure, Patrick, is at that time dating Clementine, and illegally viewing Joel’s memories to gain romantic advantage. Another technician, Mary, finds this out and confronts Patrick concerning her own memory erasure after an affair with her married boss. In protest to Patrick’s breach of confidence, she steal all the company records and mails them out to all customers. Joel and Clementine receive their records soon after meeting on the train and despite being strangers to one another, consider rekindling a relationship together.

Kaufmann bears his heart on screen. He explores all his own insecurities, and like other Jewish writers and comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen, turns it into beautiful art.  Amongst the notes of angst and introspection however,  he adds a magical realism that transports the viewer viscerally through the mind and memory.

 

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