INTRODUCTION by Charlie Kaufman
(From the Being John Malkovich script book.)
They asked me to write an introduction to this screenplay. I told them I didn’t know what to say. They told me it didn’t matter, just something. They said people studying screenwriting often purchase these books and they’ll be looking for a word from the writer. They told me I owed the readers something. I said I would try. I prefer not to owe people. So I am sitting here tonight trying. It’s three in the morning. I haven’t been able to sleep for several weeks now. Things are falling apart. I have personal problems. Perhaps I’ve been drinking too much. This was suggested to me by someone I once considered a friend. The point is, things are confused. For awhile I was living out of my car. I was in transition. The place I had been living was no longer an option. People are funny. Don’t trust them. So I was in my car, which was parked in the driveway of an acquaintance, an out-of-work actor, who was helping me out. I could’ve stayed in a hotel. That is, I could’ve afforded to stay in a hotel, but I didn’t. I needed someplace familiar or I would have lost what was left of my mind. My car is familiar. It’s had the same fast food wrappers on the floor for the past five months. They’re sort of like friends. How’s it goin’ today, McDonald’s? What’s up, Starbucks cups? In the mornings I showered in the actor’s bathroom. It wasn’t a bad deal. He has a pretty girlfriend and sometimes she’d smile at me. Nothing provocative. Nothing like that, but it got me through some of the tougher days. Now I’m in a place. I rented a small apartment. It’s fine until I work out some of the issues I need to work out. But living here and being somewhat isolated has taken a toll. I’m not thinking clearly. My work has suffered. I have bad thoughts. The man across the hall is old and sad. He sometimes asks me in for tea. I always decline and then feel guity and miserable about it, but not enough to go and have a goddamn cup of tea with him. This is beside the point. The point is an introduction. What can I say about Being John Malkovich? I wrote it several years ago for no reason at all. I don’t know why I chose John Malkovich. I don’t know how I came up with the idea. I don’t have answers to any of that. I don’t have any answers. I’m a man without answers. He said somewhat histrionically. Sometimes, when it’s late enough and dark enough and quiet enough, I am even a man without questions. A lack of curiosity, a numbness creeps over me and I just sit. I stare at that weird, suspicious stain on the wall and think of nothing. I don’t wonder about the universe. Then a little question will slowly bore its way to the front of my brain. The question is why am I in this situation? Who am I that is so terrible that people must respond to me with such brutality? Yes, brutality. A brutality of spirit. I am a person. I have my weaknesses, certainly. My insecurities, my desires. But I have a right to them. I’m not going to let anyone tell me otherwise. So if the price I have to pay for living my life is to be cast out, then I guess that is the price I have to pay. But I don’t have to be Little Mary Sunshine about it. Perhaps this is not what I am to share with you, a stranger who has just innocently purchased this screenplay. Perhaps this is not what you want to read. Perhaps you want to know about Hollywood or the writing process or some such nonsense. Perhaps you’d like to read a cute anecdote about one of the actors in the film or you’d like to know who slept with whom or you’d like me to be clever or you’d like me to tell you the character of Lester was based on my high-school algebra teacher. But I don’t have it in me to give you any of that. I have nothing cute or sparkling or insightful to say. I am a miserably lonely person who has no charming anecdotes. The only thing I can talk about, the only thing that’s on my mind at the moment is that the human being can be a treacherous creature. And that sometimes they can tell you they love you and they care about you and maybe they don’t. How terrible is that, to come to that realization? Of course it makes sense. Nobody could really like me. I mean, nobody ever has before. So I sell a screenplay and suddenly someone likes me. Just a coincidence, right? Yeah, right. If there’s anything I can say about screenwriting in this introduction, it’s that you need to write what you know. And I don’t know anything. I don’t understand a damn second of my life. I exist in a fog of confusion and anxiety and clutching jealousy and loneliness. The old man across the hall, in his own hell, is reaching out to me to offer comfort and perhaps with some insane hope that I might comfort him. But I won’t accept his invitation. He’s not a beautiful babe who wants to fuck me because she saw my name in an article in one of the trade papers. I have no use for him. I make myself sick. God, the sun is coming up already. There’s traffic on the street. Actual human beings going to actual jobs. What must that be like? I hear the old man knocking around his room, his whistling teakettle mocking me. And I’m no closer to figuring out this introduction. Or anything else. What can I tell you about the screenwriting process as I know it? Just maybe that you’re alone in this. Take your inspiration where you find it. I don’t even know what that means. Inspiration? What the hell is inspiration, anyway? You just sit there and wait. That’s all I do. I sit and wait. I don’t even know for what. For it to get better? What is it? You tell me? You write an introduction and send it to me. Maybe you know. Maybe you can tell me something. Why does it always have to go in this direction, writer to reader? Maybe you have the one thought that’ll change everything for me. The one thing I haven’t considered in my relentless, obsessive, circular thought process. Is there that one thing? Is it possible for one person to impart any transformative notion to another person? Is that what I’m supposed to offer to you in this introduction? Something to start you off on the road to a successful screenwriting career? Awfully presumptuous of me to think I might have that capability. Awfully naïve of you to expect it. Look, the truth is everything is a mess as far as I can tell. It’s just a messy, junky world. People are mean. People are lonely. People are lost. Nobody knows a damn thing. Some people pretend they do. Don’t trust them. Some people pretend they like you. Don’t believe them. And if you’re going to write a screenplay, try to keep it around a hundred and ten pages.
Los Angeles, California
Crap. That’s my big finish? It’s nothing. Almost like a joke. It’s a punchline and not a very good one. I should be ashamed. Here you are, probably a decent person. Maybe you liked this movie and wanted to read the script, get a sense of the writing and the writer, and here I am in my furnished room with my utter and complete self-indulgence, making light of your sincere curiosity as I spew my contaminated, bilious psyche onto you. Like a virus-filled sneeze. I apologize to you. I apologize to everyone I’ve ever had anything to do with. I owe you at least one clean, true thought on the craft of screenwriting. I see that now. Otherwise I could never forgive myself. Otherwise I am a completely odious person. And I can’t be that. I just can’t. So, look, y’know, it’s hard to say anything concrete. I guess the one important thing to me in my work is to tell the truth. I guess. I guess that’s it. But why do I want to tell the truth? Maybe so I can be known as the guy who tells the truth. Maybe it’s nothing more than that. Just more self-aggrandizement masquerading as honesty. It’s my shtick. Hey, I’ll be the guy who tells it like it is. Maybe then someone will love me. Maybe some women will find that sexy. I mean, I’m not going to get them with my looks. So I’m the honest one. Hey, look at me! I tell the goddamn truth no matter what the consequences! What a fucking hero. I’m sorry. I guess that didn’t go where I had hoped. Listen, I’m just an insignificant guy who wants to be significant. I want to be loved and admired. I want women to think I’m sexy. Even men. That’d be fine, too. I want everyone to think I’m brilliant. And I want them all to think I don’t care about any of that stuff. There you go. Who I am. Now I’d better get down to the Kinko’s in Glendale and e-mail this to Faber and Faber before I change my chickenshit mind.
Los Angeles, California
Finally, I want to thank all the people who worked so hard to turn this screenplay into a movie. It was an arduous process and the creativity and tireless work of everyone involved was an absolute joy to witness.