Charlie Kaufman is the acclaimed screenwriter behind surrealist movies like Being John Malkovich; Adaptation; Synecdoche, New York; and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. My favorite bizarrely wonderful story about him — which, in a way, is kind of a synecdoche for his entire oeuvre of work, which is also something I learned about through his films — is that his Academy Award-winning screenplay for Adaptation is one of the few Oscars credited to a completely fictional person. Kaufman was hired to write an adaptation of The Orchid Thief, and seeing no way to write a dramatic narrative out of some meditative thoughts on flower poaching, he decided to write a screenplay about Charlie Kaufman struggling to write a screenplay about The Orchid Thief. Except, in the context of the movie, Fictional Charlie Kaufman also has an identical twin brother named Donald … who is credited as co-writer on the actual, real-life screenplay.
I thought of this as I read this New York Times Magazine profile on Charlie Kaufman, ahead of the July 7th release of Antkind, a 700-page novel that marks Kaufman's first foray into prose writing. Journalist Jon Mooallem had the article planned well before the pandemic hit, but quickly had to improvise when he realized he wouldn't be able to interview Kaufman in person. As the lockdown dragged on, their long weekly phone conversations became a surprising source of stability for both of them (as chronicled in the article). Moallem thought he had something — but right as he turned a draft into his editor, the political climate took an every starker turn with ongoing protests against racism and police brutality, making his quaint pandemic-focused profile seem out-of-touch. Read the rest