Charlie Kaufman is a dreamer with a lot of success

Charlie Kaufman is a dreamer with a lot of success

Charlie Kaufman makes dream movies, movies that are dreams, movies with dreams in them.  And movies with slurped up memories, characters with speech impediments, old people living in ear canals.  Kaufman makes the kind of movies little boys would make if they could be in adult love when they were running through the forest with popsicles trickling down their shirts and films that film students would make if they could get their ideas off the drawing board before life broke their knees with baseball bats. But Charlie Kaufman does it.  And he gets Meryl Streep, Nicholas Cage, Cameron Diaz, a bunch of money and a wide release to do it with.  How did the Long Island beat the odds and make the weirdest movies to hit the local multiplex since ever? He doesn’t seem the likeliest of candidates… 

Charlie Kaufman was born in 1958 in suburban Long Island.  He had a typical Jewish upbringing. Kaufman propensity for theatrics began early, with him staging plays for his parents in their house. His friends and family always described Kaufman as a quiet and reserved young person, but he apparently had a lot of friends. After graduating from NYU’s film school, Kaufman began working at the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s circulation department, working very, very early in the morning.  During this time, he wrote TV scripts, but had very little success.

Kaufman moved to Los Angeles in 1991.  He had no job when he moved there and no prospects.  His wife even stayed in Minneapolis. Eventually, he found one writing on the TV sitcom, Get a Life that aired on Fox from 1990 to 1992, about a thirty year-old paperboy. Kaufman continued to write for TV shows throughout the 1990’s, until he achieved film success with…

-Being John Malkovich

Kaufman started writing a film script about a cheating husband after one of the TV sitcoms he worked for was cancelled. He came up with the ideas of making his protagonist a puppeteer, having him work on the seven-and-a-half floor of a Manhattan office building and using the actor John Malkovich. The movie became the critically acclaimed,1999 movie written by Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze tells the story of puppeteer named Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) and his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) who eventually fall for the same woman, Maxine (Catherine Keener).  Craig finds the “portal” inside the actor John Malkovich and starts selling tickets to see the world through Malkovich’s eyes. 


Again directed by Spike Jonze, Adaptation was a hit with both critics and fans.  Using Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, Kaufman blends her book, Orlean’s personal biography and the orchid thief John Laroche. The film stars Nicholas Cage as Charlie Kaufman writing the script and Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean.

-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This movie, released in 2004 and inspired by a friend of the director Michel Gondry, won Kaufman an Oscar. It tells the story of Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and his girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet).  The pair breaks up and Clementine erases Joel from her memory.  He retaliates and tries to get his memory erased, too, but halfway through, he wants to stop and to remember Clementine. So he and  his Clementin-memory race through his childhood memories to try and remember that they knew each other once. 

Kaufman is the unlikliest of strange movie making heros. He plans to write more, along with, possible, a novel someday.