fig1

DVD still from Being John Malkovich. © Being John Malkovich, screenplay by Charlie Kaufman dir. Spike Jonze, 1999. DVD, Universal Pictures UK, 2000, 109 min.

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DVD still from Adaptation. © Adaptation, screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, dir. Spike Jonze, 2002. DVD, UCA
2008, 110 min.

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DVD still from Synecdoche, New York. © Synecdoche, New York, dir. Charlie Kaufman, 2008. DVD, Revolver Entertainment
LTD, 2009, 124 min.

Charlie Kaufman on Charlie Kaufman: is Charlie Kaufman a philosopher?

Georgia Kersh

I am a scriptwriter, script reader and script editor living and working in London. The following is part of a research project I undertook in the 'Storytelling' module of my Playwriting and Screenwriting MA degree. It is a compiled and collected interview with Charlie Kaufman. Kaufman is the screenwriter behind Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Synecdoche New York and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. Kaufman's screenwriting often leads towards very thought provoking films, so much so that he has been heralded by fans as a modern day philosopher, using the film medium as a platform for these philosophies. It is this notion that the interview revolves around.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think of yourself as a philosopher?

CHARLIE KAUFMAN: In my films I'm trying to explain the part of life that is a struggle and also trying to find meaning to it. There are so many questions and there's so much confusion and limitation in the human brain, in the same way as in a dog's brain. We can see clearly that there's so much that a dog will never understand, ever, no matter how much you teach him. Just move up a couple of steps on the chain and you have to come to the conclusion that we're pretty much in the dark in a cosmic sense.1

I: Do you write in order to make sense of the world for yourself?

CK: Mostly what I'm doing is trying to write about the things I'm thinking about because I feel like I can present something honest in a movie by doing that, it takes me out of the realm of trying to contrive a story for the sake of trying to sell a movie. You don't do it for an audience, you do it for yourself because that way you're giving the world something of yourself, rather than trying to second guess what people want, and creating a lifeless thing.2

I: Do you write with the intention that people will have to watch your films multiple times before they fully get it?

CK: Well, yes. That's the idea. People tend to have a delayed reaction, that it sort of sits with them and becomes more affecting over time, which is kind of nice for me to hear that there's a continuing relationship with the work in someone's brain. It's still processing over time.3

I: Do you think that your writing confuses people?

CK: I'm never afraid of confusing or losing people. I hope that they enjoy the process of figuring things out. The idea that you're not always handing things to people was always part of the game plan.4

I: Do you see yourself in your characters?

CK: In a way Joel [from Eternal Sunshine] is maybe a stand-in for me. And maybe can be likened to Craig [from Being John Malkovich] and Charlie [from Adaptation] and Caden [from Synecdoche, New York]... I do tend to write a certain kind of guy... It's the only thing I can really do honestly.5

I: Caden, who like you works in the arts, struggles with words. Does this happen to you when you write?

CK: I struggle with that a lot when I'm writing, because my things tend to be very wordy. I like words. It's interesting though, I suffered from depression a few years ago. And when I was going through it, I couldn't talk about it. The very act of talking about it has made it obvious that I'm not going through it anymore. There is this preverbal or nonverbal kind of thing that is the really felt thing and once you start to translate it into words, it loses its immediacy or its power. I find that language is useful for labelling things and putting them into perspective. However the thing that you're putting in perspective is always over, you know?6

I: The ideas you put forward about mind-body philosophy in Being John Malkovich are very thought provoking, did you intend for the film to pack such a philosophical punch?

CK: I want to create situations that give people something to think about. I hate a movie that will end by telling you that the first thing you should do is learn to love yourself. That is so insulting and condescending, and so meaningless. My characters don't learn to love each other or themselves.7

I: What about in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I got the impression that by the end of the film Joel and Clementine had learnt to love each other all over again?

CK: Joel and Clementine learn that they've known each other before and that all of these terrible things have happened, but they're kind of infatuated with each other. I'm not sure that, if you are infatuated with someone, and you're given this piece of information, you may not incorporate it the way you would after two years of that kind of fighting. There might even be something kind of romantic about learning that you had this big relationship before. If you're imagining yourself in this future with someone that you just met, the fact that it's stormy can't possibly resonate in the way that it would if you'd actually lived it. I think it's questionable.8

I: That's all about we have got time for. Thank you for talking to me Charlie.

 

1 T. Huddleston, Interview Charlie Kaufman with Time Out Film (2008),
http:// timeout.com/london/film/interview-charlie-kaufman-1.

2 A. Godfrey, Charlie Kaufman Interview (2010),
http://sabotagetimes.com/people/charlie-kaufman-interview/.

3 P.Scrietta, Interview with Charlie Kaufman (2008),
http://slashfilm.com/interview-with-charlie-kaufman/.

4 G. Kleinman, Charlie Kaufman and Michael Gondry – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2008),
http:// dvdtalk.com/interviews/charlie_kaufman.html.

5 C. O’Shea, ‘Out of His Head: Metaphysical Escape Attempts in the Films of Charlie Kaufman’
in Bright Lights Film Journal: 63 (2009), pp.186-190.

6 D.L. Smith, ‘Synecdoche, In Part’ in The Philosophy of Charlie Kaufman, ed.
David LaRocca (The University of Kentucky, 2011), pp.239-253.

7 M. Sragow, Being Charlie Kaufman(1999),
http:// salon.com/1999/11/11/kaufman/.

8 A. Patheo, The Looking Closer Interview: Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman (2004),
http:// patheos.com/blogs/lookingcloser/2004/05/the-looking-closer-interview-michel-gondry-and-charlie-kaufman/.