In the history of American cinema, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are perhaps some of the most extraordinary films ever made. The fact that the screenwriter behind both of these films is the same man is certainly a clear testament to the fact that Charlie Kaufman is one of the greatest scriptwriters of our generation. It has been two decades since Kaufman first rose to fame with the release of his debut feature film, Being John Malkovich, and today, his debut book Antkind is releasing to wide anticipation across the globe. Hence, we’ve decided to take a quick look at the life and journey of the genius that is Charlie Kaufman, before we take a dive in his debut literary venture.
Before The Breakthrough
Kaufman was known to be a timid young man and for the longest time wrote speculative screenplays for many famous shows like The Simpsons in order to find work. He first received some recognition for his work on The Dana Carvey Show, a sketch comedy show that featured names like Greg Daniels and Steve Carell. However, he continued to write pilots for shows that were not produced.
The script of Being John Malkovich was read by many production houses and rejected by all of them, before it gained attention of the great Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola then gave the script to his daughter Sofia Coppola’s then boyfriend Spike Jonze, eventually leading to the release of both Kaufman and Jonze’s debut feature film. The originality and surreal comedic storytelling of the film is unparalleled even today. There is something about Being John Malkovich that will always posit it as one of the most ingenious cinematic creations. At the core of the film is the question of self identity and the related crisis that every human being faces at some point(s) in its life, making the film a universal adventure. The film also landed Kaufman his first of many Academy Award nominations.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Post Being John Malkovich, Kaufman worked on films like Adaptation, directed yet again by Spike Jonze. Adaptation is another uniquely intriguing creation by Kaufman’s, a film that explores the tough art of adaptation, in pure Kaufman style. While his other notable works from the time include Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which was also the debut directorial venture of George Clooney, the one film that emerged from this period, which will perhaps exist as one of the greatest romantic dramas for a long long time to come is, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
It is almost futile to put into words the genius that is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film that won Kaufman the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, is a film that has been widely regarded as one of the greatest films to emerge out of 21st century, and while we’ve spent only two of its decades, this fact will certainly remain indisputable regardless. The films pushes the boundaries of romantic comedy and drama, creating a cinematic experience that is at once surreal and yet real. It is truly a post-modern masterpiece, a film that delves so deep into the human experience of the emotion called love, that it leaves you breathless. There is absolutely no way of escaping the magic of the film, it is pure excellence.
Through Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman donned the hat of a director. While the film was a commercial failure and left critics wildly split in their reception, many have applauded it for its exploration of the human life and the universality of failures and successes that accompany it. Subsequently in 2015, Kaufman also co-directed a stop-motion animation film titled Anomalisa. It was yet again a commercial failure but it received universal critical praise, and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. His next directorial-writer venture is set to be a Netflix original titled I’m Thinking of Ending Things, based on the book by Iain Reid of the same name. The film will be released on the digital streaming platform in September.
Antkind: A Novel
Said to be an unfilmable novel about an impossible film, the book’s blurb states that it is, ‘a searing indictment of the modern world, a richly layered meditation on art, time, memory, identity, comedy, and the very nature of existence itself — the grain of truth at the heart of every joke.’ If there is one thing that we can be certain of about this novel, it is that it will be Kaufman being Kaufman, providing us his brilliant insights about human nature and this idiosyncratic thing we call, life.