Charlie Kaufman: Human Nature and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

My love of Adaptation and Being John Malkovich is well documented on this blog, so naturally I expanded my viewing further into the world of Charlie Kaufman, the screen writer with a unique brand of absurdity. Here’s a quick look at some of his other films.

Human Nature

This ultra weird comedy follows three people: Nathan, a psychologist who’s trying to teach table manners to mice (Tim Robbins); Lila, a woman who has thick hair all over her body (Patricia Arquette); and “Puff”, a man raised in the wilderness (Rhys Ifans), as they each try and find their place between nature and civilisation. 

Human Nature has Kaufman’s originality in bucket loads, with the completely bizarre backstories of its three main characters providing different vantage points for the examination of nature and civilization. Kaufman’s hallmarks of awkwardness, feelings of being an outsider struggling to fit in, and unique look at sex, are once again here as well.

It benefits from great casting choices, particularly Ifans as the man raised by a man who thought he was a gorilla, who do the best possible with this larger than life screenplay. But in spite of the best intentions there’s something about this film that doesn’t quite work overall. It’s not as sharp as the likes of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, even if it is endearing and enjoyable. It just doesn’t feel as rich and textured as these films. One thing that is so great about those films is how deadpan the absurdity is, but here everything feels a little more over the top.

This is a reasonable piece of light entertainment and worth watching just for how bizarre it is, but is not up to the standard of Kaufman’s other work. While there’s always something slightly experimental about his films, sometimes the experiment works, which I’m not sure Human Nature does.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

While Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is based on the off-the-wall autobiography of TV host Chuck Barris, it feels like a Charlie Kaufman film through-and-through. The fantasies of a struggling creative, the bleak look at human existence and the thoroughly unromantic view of sex, this is Kaufman to the bone.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Barris, he was the host of The Gong Show and creator of numerous other game show formats, sort of like an early Simon Cowell. In his autobiography, from which this film takes its name, Barris claimed to have worked for the CIA for many years, a claim which the CIA rigorously denies. But it’s the autobiography that this film is based on, so follows Barris (Sam Rockwell) as he breaks into show business and spying alike, combining his trips abroad for The Dating Game with assassinations.

Director George Clooney brings together a talented cast including himself, Rockwell, Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts, and shows his talent behind as well as in front of the camera. Rockwell is good, although his interpretation of Barris is a little too close to his usual shtick to be truly laudable.

This could be a Coen brothers film, as the two have clearly been very influential on both its writer and director. The result it is a thoroughly original and engaging comedy thriller which does a fine job of making its wacky source material convincing.

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2 responses to “Charlie Kaufman: Human Nature and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

  1. Pingback: On iPlayer: Synecdoche, New York | Screen Goblin·

  2. Pingback: Instinct | Screen Goblin·

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