Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

My cup of Kaufee

Examining the raw and real films of famed director Charlie Kaufman
Photo courtesy of the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind official IMDB page.

Charlie Kaufman is arguably one of the pickiest creatives in Hollywood. Kaufman has been involved in eight features in the past 23 years. He’s written all of them and directed the last three. This pickiness isn’t unwarranted by any means. Kaufman pours a great amount of himself into each of these movies.

In the most literal sense, he does this in comedy-drama film “Adaptation.” Nicolas Cage portrays a semi-fictionalized version of Kaufman dealing with writer’s block among various insecurities.  Some of the movie’s details are fictious, such as his twin brother. This “twin” acts as a physical manifestation of what Kaufman fears if he were to broaden his horizons and write whatever his agent slips across his desk.

A notable aspect of all Kaufman’s films are the incredibly raw inner monologues characters have. Often rambling and full of doubt or despair, I feel as these are the most accurate media portrayal panic attacks. Whether it’s catastrophizing a dying relationship in ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things” or suffering imposter syndrome in “Synecdoche, New York,” these very real fears contrast the often outlandish yet symbolic plots of Kaufman’s films.

Kaufman alludes to certain psychological disorders often in his work. Such as Cotard delusion, the belief in which one is dead or will die shortly (Caden Cotard in “Synecdoche, New York.”) The Fregoli delusion, in which one thinks that different people are one person in a disguise (the Fregoli Hotel in “Anomalisa”). In both films, the main characters suffer heavily from these afflictions. Kaufman does an incredible job of capturing how real these disorders feel to those affected. Blurring the line between reality and fantasy, it creates the uneasy feeling of one’s perception of the world crumbling.

In these films, these disorders cause the aforementioned Caden and Michael Stone of “Anomalisa” to see drastic decline in their mental health and ability to communicate with others. Caden imbues himself with work to create a play depicting his life in incredibly minute detail, spanning decades of work, thousands of actors and miles of stage. Michael finds himself detached from reality, unable to differentiate people from one another, including his wife and young son.

“Anomalisa” is Kaufman’s first and so far, only foray into stop motion animation. This movie would likely be impossible without the limitless possibilities that stop motion affords filmmakers. These lifelike puppets have an uncanny sadness to them.  Kaufman portrays the Fregoli delusion by having every puppet apart from protagonist Michael have the same exact face and voice. This maddening similarity puts us in the mind of Michael, who tumbles aimlessly through a business trip to Cincinnati as he continues to find someone who breaks this mold.

The horror aspects of Kaufman’s films shine in their unique depictions of real afflictions. In “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” the unnamed main character suffers intense memory fog as she meets her boyfriend’s parents for the first time. Throughout this movie, we continually are misled via dialogue and set pieces. Character’s backgrounds, studies, and appearances change and dement themselves into parodies.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” which earned Kaufman his first Oscar also deals in the horrors of memory. This film focuses on the desire to forget a former loved one, as depicted through an experimental procedure that allows protagonist Clementine Kruczynski to forget her former lover Joel Barish. Joel struggles with the revelation that she has removed him from her mind.   He reflects on what brought them to this point through a unilinear storyline, bringing us from finish to start on their tumultuous relationship.

You could say it’s horror, drama, comedy, thriller and a thousand other genres, what’s most important to me is that it’s Kaufman.

Jackson Walker can be reached at [email protected].

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    Brenda TrousdellOct 13, 2022 at 10:08 am

    Excellent article! Now I want to re-watch Kaufman’s work.