Abstract – Unknown, Unkissed, and Lost: The Philosophical and Literary Underpinnings of Charlie Kaufman’s Films

Still from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

The purpose of my research is to analyze the films of Charlie Kaufman in the context of the thinkers, both philosophical and literary, whose ideas his work redacts.

Whether his characters are discovering a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich or trying to construct a play depicting all of human life (to scale), American filmmaker Charlie Kaufman balances absurd or surreal premises with genuine human emotion. The results are films that are deeply thought-provoking and thematically dense.

Wanting to understand Kaufman’s body of work on a deeper level, I set out to examine his films through the lens of different philosophies by choosing five or six significant thinkers (who Kaufman has cited as influence or whose ideas feature prominently in Kaufman’s work) and examining his films in the context of their ideas. I will begin by watching each of the seven feature films which Kaufman has written or directed from Being John Malkovich (1999) to Anomalisa (2015). Subsequently, I will consult Kaufman’s influences and the existing scholarship on his films to craft a list of four or five thinkers whose ideas Kaufman’s films explore. One by one, I will brief myself on these thinkers’ main ideas and writing, in the process synthesizing a series of five or six brief reports demonstrating the prominence of their ideas in Kaufman’s filmography.