Grandeur Delusions: The Male Protagonists of the Films of Charlie Kaufman
A mild mannered NBC page goes from zero to hero, making hit shows and makings hits at the same time. A slightly schlubby puppeteer struggles both with his art, his lust for an elusive female co-worker, and his fascination with the portal into the head of another man. A self-aware introvert travels back through his most recent relationship and starts to understand the fallacy of his own romantic mind. These three characters do not share the actors who played them or even the directors who guided them, but they do share two things: a writer, named Charlie Kaufman, and a unique sense of delusion. As Freud would put it, a delusion of grandeur, to the extent where such delusions affect the way that each characters’ story is told, in terms of aesthetics and structure. In George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) leads a double life where, by day, he’s producing shows like The Newlywed Game and by night he’s making hits for the CIA; but Barris’s story, told from his perspective, is so bizarre the audience is thrust into a hyper-stylized fantasy where one is not quite able to tell if he is telling the truth. Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich presents “objectivity” as a deliberately absurdist comedy, playing the concept itself and deconstructing the romanticized “genius” in the form of Craig Schwartz (John Cusack). Lastly, in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is so deep set in his introversion, that when he finally is given the opportunity to explore his own memories, he is able to see them for what they are. These are tied together by Kaufman’s singular ability to tap into the cult of the genius and deconstruct what that entails through storytelling, as well as each respective director’s ability to channel those ideas through a visual format.