If you’ve seen many of the movies Charlie Kaufman has written, you’ve probably noticed that his main characters almost always take us on a head trip. We end up journeying to places not unlike the Wild West or some Brave New World; they are spaces which are hard to find, and harder to protect; they can be located somewhere between two floors in an office building ( Being John Malkovich ) or on a fragile, tiny bed beneath an everlasting sky of snow ( Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ).
Kaufman’s latest movie, Synecdoche, New York is the first one he’s
directed. The main character (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), builds a replica of a city inside a warehouse in order to re-create life as he perceives it. As a
director, Kaufman follows in the footsteps of his earlier collaborators, Michel Gondry and
Spike Jonze — seasoned directors recognized for their unique and highly
stylized vision. Gondry’s meticulous and technical approach to the look and narrative structure of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind allowed audiences to travel backward in time to watch the erasure of a relationship from memory; Jonze’s talent for timing and action resulted in a deft entwinement of multiple plots in Adaptation , and his attention to characters took audiences into strange mental recesses in Being John Malkovich. In Synecdoche, Kaufman’s movie is depicted as a play, within a play, and the story of his movie characters are told to us by the movie’s play’s characters. Sound confusing?
Many of Kaufman’s movies take place inside the characters’ heads (in
the case of Being John Malkovich, literally so), and the particular terrain of the sets and environments represent not only locations but mental and emotional dramas: A man is observed as a social experiment ( Human Nature ); a TV show host
leads a double life ( Confessions of a Dangerous Mind ); a puppeteer is
manipulated by his lovers (Being John Malkovich); a couple erases their
relationship from memory (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind). Luckily for us, in all these movies and in his latest masterpiece, all head trips ultimately lead to self-discovery and we have to ask ourselves what kind of adventure is waiting for us in our own minds?