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Creator / Charlie Kaufman

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"Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. If you’re honest about who you are, you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognize him or herself in you and that will give them hope. Give that to the world, rather than selling something to the world. Don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do. Do you. It isn’t easy but it’s essential. It’s not easy because there’s a lot in the way. In many cases a major obstacle is your deeply seated belief that you are not interesting. And since convincing yourself that you are interesting is probably not going to happen, take it off the table. Think, ‘Perhaps I’m not interesting but I am the only thing I have to offer, and I want to offer something. And by offering myself in a true way I am doing a great service to the world, because it is rare and it will help.’"

Charles Stuart Kaufman (born November 19, 1958) is an American writer, director and author known for creating stories with metatextual references and dense, headache-inducing absurdism/surrealism.

He is considered to be among the most brilliant contemporary screenwriters, and among his accolades, he has won an Academy Award, three BAFTA Awards, two Independent Spirit Awards, and a Writers Guild of America Award.

Outside of his original screenplays, he has worked as an uncredited script doctor for screenplays such as Kung Fu Panda 2. Yes, really.

Works include:

* = writing
** = writing + directing

Tropes in Charlie Kaufman's works include:

  • Author Appeal:
    • Romances where a melancholy man will fall for an extraordinary woman, but things aren’t what they initially seem.
    • Mentally broken, awkward men who can't get on with the rest of the world. A retreat into the mind is typically the only way they can deal with their situations.
    • Copious amounts of surrealism and headache-inducing moments.
    • Fictionalized facts and playing with the rules of reality.
    • Meaningful names, usually referencing mental illnesses and diseases.
    • Monkeys.
  • Black Comedy: When his comedy isn’t weird as hell, it’s probably going to be this.
  • Central Theme: Mortality, death, what it means to be human, and the meaning of life as well as how people use fantasy and escapism to cope with traumatic experiences or negative emotions.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: No one is ever all good or all bad in his work.
  • Genre-Busting
  • Humans Are Flawed: Kaufman says he does like people in real life, but his characters are usually emotionally damaged, self-loathing, and insecure.
  • Loser Protagonist: Very few Kaufman protagonists aren’t. Hell, he even made himself one!
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Being John Malkovich and especially Sunshine deconstruct this to the extreme. They go over what happens when the novelty of such a person wears off.
  • Meaningful Name: Particularly in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche, New York and Anomolisa.
  • Meta Fiction: Adaptation most bluntly, but also seen in Synecdoche, New York.
  • Mind Screw: Almost goes without saying.
  • Portmanteau:
  • Postmodernism: Metafictional elements? Check. Deconstruction? Of course! Weirdness up the wazoo? You bet!
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: His romantic leads are this, males almost always being being blue and women usually being red.
  • Rewatch Bonus: His films have a lot of elements that take on new meaning on a second or third watch.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: His movies are usually cynical in tone, but have a shine of optimism at its core.
  • Surreal Humor: His trademark style of humor.
  • Surreal Horror: Used every so often.