I’ve really put off — and therefore artificially built up — this final chapter of my little “I’m Thinking Of …” analysis. That’s never a good idea. I mean, Goethe put off Part II of Faust for something like 40 years, but he was fucking Goethe. I’m just spitballing some movie impressions, not trying to figure out human existence in theatrical verse.
Speaking of theatrical, what about about that ending? Watching it, I thought Kaufman is kind of lurching for an artificial happy way to wrap this mindfuck up (what’s with my language today, by the way? Sheesh, I sound like my 13 year old son.) But in doing so, he created something that’s actually even creepier and more disturbing than the standard ending Iain Reid crafted for his novel.
As I mentioned in the last piece, Reid turned his story into something like a slasher movie in the final act. It was reminiscent of “The Silence of the Lambs” in that respect, all the more highbrow psychological story lines disappeared and we’re left with a woman trying to escape an armed killer in the dark … or something like that. In the end, they all die in a blood triple suicide. And then we find out, like of like the coda to Eminem’s Stan, that the whole story was written by the janitor in his notebooks. Damn.
I kinda hate the way the novel wrapped up and I get the sense that Kaufman did too. So he decides to take a wild flight of fancy and at this point, I’m overdue in introducing my personal favorite analogy about Charlie Kaufman. To me, Charlie Kaufman is to film directing what Michael Jordan was to baseball. I suppose with enough time and hard work, Kaufman will reach a place where he’s a pretty good or maybe even very good director.
But the fact is that he’s a phenomenal screenwriter, maybe the best working today. His imagination knows no bounds. His work is capable of soaring when he’s paired with a director who knows what to do with those imaginative bursts, whether it’s Michael Gondry’s melting houses in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or any second of Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich.”
But Charlie/Michael really wants to direct/play baseball! And we audience members have to sit through movies that don’t quite work as a result. That’s never more obvious than in the final scenes of this movie. It’s one thing to introduce a talking cartoon pig … ok, I can take that and the Tulsey Town 1950s advertisement intro. But then, we get the high school auditorium/Nobel Prize ceremony with all the characters in the film wearing ridiculous high school play aging makeup. By this point, Kaufman has already gone too far … the mind is ready to accept one weird feature of a scene at a time and we’re still processing the talking pig when this bizarre makeup appears.
Now he takes it the third strange step of having Jake give the closing speech from “A Beautiful Mind” word for word. The movie had already made the psychic handoff from the young woman to Jake when the talking pig tells him “you are a physicist, after all.” We get it! The anima is within him! But now he gets to process that internal anima as his own in front of all the women in his life … including the woman who portrayed the anima! That just doesn’t feel right to me. She walks through the entire movie slowly gaining her agency and in the final scene she’s reduced to a love interest?
But even that third step of weirdness is not enough, because Jake needs to step away from his Nobel for Nothing and take on the vocals of “Lonely Room,” one of the most depressing songs ever composed. In the song, Jud laments that the girl of his dreams doesn’t even see him, he daydreams that she does, then he angrily denounces the “pack of lies” that carried his delusion.
So, the story returns to the young woman’s closing story told to the janitor, that their relationship never existed, it was all a delusion of Jake’s that allowed him to create the anima that carried the action of the story to its inevitable (violent?) conclusion. It reached the same place as Iain Reid’s novel, but in a far more circuitous, baroque fashion.
I can imagine a better director making something really interesting out of these Kaufman ideas, but Charlie/Michael can’t hit the Uncle Charlie (slang for curve ball) and strikes out (as MJ did 114 times in 436 at bats.) The ending is weird in a Lynchian way, but not nourishing like his work. I didn’t get the feeling that I’m tapping into Kaufman’s unconscious so much as I’m tapping into his partially thought out ideas.
Or as Pauline Kael said of “A Woman Under the Influence:”
It’s all planned, yet it isn’t thought out