Though film has always been about innovating spectacle and gimmickry, without a good script failure is destined. Here are films with Academy Award-winning scripts by two of the more visionary writers we’ve had: Charles Kaufman and Paddy Chayefsky.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, by Kaufman) is an unusual romantic comedy about two lovers who pay to have the memory of their relationship erased. The set-up would be portrayed as science fiction in most other films, but here it’s expressed in casual terms, as if to make this strange tragedy seem commonplace. As a writer, Kaufman plots fascinating stories that feel like labyrinths into the mind. Ideas of identity, autonomy, and sanity are often questioned. This movie presents the events of a love story obliquely as memories of the relationship begin to be removed. The normally man-child Jim Carrey plays against type as a sympathetic adult who fights to maintain his memories and, in a sense, his humanity. The film ends happy/sadly with love prevailing, though with a few bumps along the way.
Paddy Chayefsky isn’t concerned with individual issues but with the disintegration of society. He is best known for his Oscar-winning script for 1976’s Network — a film about a news anchor gone crazy. This characterization seems like a prescient critique of Glenn Beck’s apocalyptic demagoguery, but just as easily could have been the inspiration. Network, though, is fairly well known. Lesser known (and in some ways more interesting) is another film with an Oscar-winning script he wrote a few years earlier called The Hospital (1971). Instead of media, Chayefsky harpoons the medical industry with a bleak comedy about a talented but suicidal doctor (played by the absolutely brilliant George C. Scott) who presides over a hospital in chaos. A Rolling Stone critic called this film “one of the darkest movies ever made.” Rob Zombie would probably take issue with that statement, but the darkness of The Hospital is in its implications, as the rampant dissatisfaction of the 1960s spill over into what should have been the last bastion of salvation — a hospital. For the acting and especially the writing, it’s worth a view.
Cine File is a random reference guide exploring the vast catalogue of films available on Netflix instant viewing, with special emphasis on the interesting, the unusual, and the ones that got left behind.