Unknown, Unkissed, and Lost Part 6: Reflections & Conclusions

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07: Director Charlie Kaufman attends Apple Store Soho Presents Meet The Filmmaker: Charlie Kaufman And Duke Johnson, "Anomalisa" at Apple Store Soho on March 7, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

What I was hoping to accomplish through this research was not only to expand my knowledge of both Kaufman’s films and figures in existentialist philosophy, but also to use these connections to demonstrate why Kaufman is worthy of being mentioned alongside these great names. While his films often deal with similar themes as these authors, they do not simply retread the same material; each absurd premise Kaufman imagines approaches what it means to be human from fresh new vantage points and with keen insight.

I’m glad that I focused the scope of my research from five to four authors, since the extra time gave me the opportunity to really absorb the authors’ ideas and find the best parallels. In retrospect, I feel like I could have focused my research even further. In analyzing the works of the four authors against Kaufman’s whole oeuvre, I found myself making a few too many generalizations about the nature of Kaufman’s films; although he certainly has an auteur style, each film truly provides a unique experience. I also found I could not delve deep enough into any one film, ignoring Confessions of a Dangerous Mind outright. To remedy this, I feel like I could have limited the films I watched to Kaufman’s most widely acclaimed films or to the films on which there is the most scholarship. I could have even just analyzed Synecdoche, New York, as I mentioned it in every blog post but still have only scratched the surface of its many dense layers. Despite these concerns, I feel like I did a serviceable job in approaching Kaufman’s body of work as a whole.

I would also find it interesting to expand my research into areas of analysis outside of existentialism. Since sexuality plays such a large role in Kaufman’s films, from Charlie’s masturbation in Adaptation to Puff’s clearly Oedipal desires in Human Nature, Kaufman’s films seem ripe for psychoanalysis. Also, while Kaufman’s films deal with universal themes, he almost exclusively approaches these from a white male perspective and, as such, it would be intriguing to examine his works through a feminist lens. While I found it worthwhile to approach his oeuvre from an existentialist standpoint, there is still much more room for exploration.

Something that struck me about Kaufman’s films in contrast to existentialist philosophers like Camus and Kierkegaard is that although Kaufman seems to agree on the existential issues that plague humanity–be it despair, routine, or the constant desire to understand–his films never pose a clear solution in the way that the philosophers do, often because Kaufman’s characters have tragic endings. Even the more hopeful endings, like that at the end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, still has questionable implications and end with a bittersweet aftertaste. This open-endedness follows the likes of Kafka and Beckett in demonstrating the irrationality of our world without sugarcoating our inability to fully comprehend it.

What makes Kaufman stand out against these authors, however, is his mastery of the medium of film to tell these stories. While literature can create the fantastical through description and the theatre can leave elements up to the audience’s imagination, film inherently requires a higher degree of realism, creating a greater emphasis on how to represent these absurd situations practically. Kaufman’s daring vision, often alongside the technical competency of another director, creates a film experience that not only delves into these existential issues, but that also includes stunning visuals that bend reality in a visceral way. Kaufman’s work demonstrates how film can capture the Absurd, tell innovative stories, open up philosophical questions, and make the audience laugh, all at the same time.

Since scholarship of Kaufman’s work is still growing, I hope by interpreting his work through these diverse philosophical lenses I could open new routes for analysis of Kaufman’s work, bringing to light interesting ways that Kaufman’s films reflects key philosophical concepts.