Charlie Kaufman, one of Hollywood's finest screenwriters, turns 58 today. He is also a director, producer and lyricist but is best known for being the idiosyncratic man behind the peculiar scripts of films like Being John Malkovich (1999) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) among others. Today, on his birthday, we take a look at all his seven films so far, briefly explaining what makes his films so unique, leaving you wondering how one could ever come up with such ideas.
Three of Kaufman's scripts appear in the Writers Guild of America's list of the 101 Greatest Movie Screenplays Ever Written. No surprises there. Kaufman's work explores universal themes such as identity crisis, mortality and the meaning of life through a metaphysical or para-psychological framework. His work includes dazzling inventions, surreal instances, wicked paradoxes, cruel irony, mind alteration, and for some reason, apes regularly feature in his work too. Prepare to have your mind blown as you watch these films, and ask yourself, is he the greatest screenwriter of our times?
Being John Malkovich (1999)
The film follows a puppeteer who finds a portal that leads into actor John Malkovich's mind. It gets stranger by the scene, eventually paradoxical, leaving no stone unturned. Expect the unexpected.
This one oozes with irony and is inexplicable at times. Though the film is billed as an adaptation of the book 'The Orchid Thief', its primary narrative focus is Kaufman's struggle to adapt the book into a film, while dramatizing the events of the book in parallel. To make things even more interesting, he added a number of fictitious elements, including his own twin brother. Simply put, watching the film is being actively involved in the challenge of its creation.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
This is a biographical spy comedy film depicting the life of popular game show host and producer Chuck Barris, who claimed to have also been an assassin for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This one is perhaps the most straight forward film compared to his others.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
With a touch of sci-fi, this rom-com is about an estranged couple who have erased each other from their memories, literally. This film is an adventure inside their heads, as you travel through projections of their subconscious, which are slowly depleting, one by one. If you thought Kaufman's idea of erasing memory was impracticable, scientists confirmed earlier this year that they can now access and remove memories from the brain.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
This film is easily his magnum opus. Not only did he write it but he also directed it, making it like his baby. This film is about everything – anyone from anywhere of any age going through anything can relate to it. It's up to you what you make of it. The plot follows an ailing theatre director as he works on an increasingly elaborate stage production whose extreme commitment to realism begins to blur the boundaries between fiction and reality. Synecdoche is where a part of something represents the whole, or vice versa. Don't watch it with scrutiny, looking for hidden meanings, and instead let it come to you. The more you watch it, the more you will appreciate it.
We're glad he decided to direct another film, as well as write it. Based on his own play, this stop motion film follows a lonely customer service expert who perceives everyone as identical until he meets a unique woman in a Cincinnati hotel. This one will blow your mind as well.