If we chroniquons this film, 15 years later, it is to try to unravel the mystery of CHARLIE KAUFMAN – if that was possible – before the release of his next feature film Anomalisa, February 3, 2016. Return, therefore, to his second film, HUMAN NATURE , where it is still “only” a screenwriter (Michel Gondry realizes it), to see a certain development of his obsessions.

The pitch : Lila, a woman the hair to be exacerbated, is shared between a return to nature (in all senses of the words), or blend in by hiding his / her identity ; she will meet with Dr. Nathan Bronfman, a scientist, a hunter’s instinct, traumatized by the rigidity of his parents and obsessed with the transmission of good manners, in order to “change the face of the world”. In parallel, Puff, a wild child became an adult, serves as a guinea pig to Bronfman, who tries to civilize by force. In the midst of all this, Nathan binds of affection for his assistant, the “French” Gabrielle…

Be familiar with the films of the two authors Jonze and Gondry (see our articles HERE or HERE) allows us to approximate and compare In the skin of John Malkovich1999 and HUMAN NATURE2001, their two adaptations to the respective scenarios of Charlie Kaufman ; it allows us to identify the major problem of HUMAN NATURE : Michel Gondry.

Unlike Craig, Maxine and Lotte expressing perfectly in In the skin of John Malkovich, the facets névrosées of Kaufman, we perceive, particularly in HUMAN NATURE, the personality of the filmmaker Michel Gondry expressed through the protagonists created by Charlie Kaufman ; a binarity of characters undermining their credibility.

It is a shame, because the script of Charlie Kaufman was developing a few aspects entraperçus in the programmatic, In the skin of John Malkovich ; the author explained his relation to women, love and sexuality, by using metaphors exacerbated these notions. If some of them are more recognizable and obvious than others (the love triangle, the reproduction of the scheme family), others, such as the image of a symbol of femininity and instinct through a woman to the hairy or the theme of the ape-man to civilize metaphor of the child to educate, fascinate by the simple power of their allegory. Only instead of a match between the realization and scenario, one feels rather a conflict between the visions of two authors – one too visual, the other necessarily scriptural – while, however, they share the same obsessions.

Gondry, for example, emphasizes visually the issues of the character of Lila (empowerment, identity)… But the result is rather that it makes Patricia Arquette a fantasy when it could have been an icon – as the script suggested via a certain kind of mise en abyme. In front of her, Gabrielle/Miranda Otto and his frenchtittude typically Gondry-ounce, are not a symbol of subtle control as it seemed to have predicted the script (the final plan), but remain confined to this aspect of the exotic and seductive, absolutely artificial. Feminism percolating through these two figures of emancipation and the quest for identity in relation to Man is found drowned in a representation is more superficial than deep.

© Mars Distribution

© Mars Distribution

Nathan Bronfman, the man between the two women, is also shared between the two personalities of Kaufman and Gondry, control freak neurotic and consumed by desire. Mixture of physical of the two artists, their attitudes and decisions reflect, as for them, their fear/fascination/misunderstanding/respect for The Woman, the obsessions as to the inheritance and transmission. But then again, Tim Robbins never find the right tone between the hesitations, the charisma, the aura, cultivation, and intelligence in the grip of instinct.

These three characters were, in theory, can provide many avenues of interpretations, but they do, but never to the balance. Neither them, nor the face of the true vector of interest of the movie : Puff (Rhys Ifans).

To the image as in the script, Puff is this character blank of any influence. It will serve, therefore, as John Malkovich in his time, of the receptacle of neuroses, complexes and fantasies. Not only those of the other protagonists, but also those of Gondry and Kaufman.

© Mars Distribution

© Mars Distribution

Thanks to this character quite disturbing, Kaufman , and by extension Gondry transmit to us their questions about parenting and the transmission. The relationship between Nathan and his parents, and then those with women (intellect, affect, gender) reflected in what Nathan passes on to Puff – the son of a substitution. Puff, whose personality appears to be a mixture of instincts, values, socio-cultural and obsessions, will end up as humanly detestable, not discerning nor good, nor evil, addicted to all sorts of drugs – sex, affection, comfort, alcohol. This character expresses the fear fundamental of all parents : in spite of the will to shape our progeny in our image, the excess of control leads inevitably to drift ; the responsibility to our children goes by a certain domination of our own psychology… But what is it if it is in the first place, especially neurotic ?

The evolution of Puff is the true heart of a narrative and a psychological film, the appearance is better served by the script, the dialogues and the director.

Question mise en scene, if In the skin of John Malkovich joining forces with the phenomenal depth scénaristico-métaphysico-psychological script of Kaufman to a realization of the perfectly empathetic, HUMAN NATURE gives the impression of a film constrained by problems of pace and consistency. In question, not the scenario Charlie Kaufman, certainly less stimulating, but just as intriguing as the previous movie, but rather a lack of rigour in the staging of Michel Gondry… Because the director, in spite of the powerful ideas of staging and findings of audio-visual taken from his universe (video clips for Björk, Massive Attack, etc), does not like Spike Jonze to do is merge its own obsessions and those of Kaufman. The madness of a script to the madness of a layout image, the accuracy of the dialogues does not mix with the passion too palpable of the producer for the will of its actors.

“Rather than a merger between two personalities, authors, HUMAN NATURE is parasitized by Michel Gondry and his obsessions…”

In short, HUMAN NATURE may clearly disappoint in the face In the skin of John Malkovich. Michel Gondry, still too ensconced in a format the clip, seems to be unable to control completely his desire to gimmicks, to curb his creativity, leaving the place to something other than himself to give body to a scenario promising. It will therefore be necessary to wait until 2004 and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to see a perfect match between the movie creative, stripped, and staff of Gondry and the obsessions of Charlie Kaufman.


Criticism of the films scripted and directed by Charlie Kaufman

In the skin of John Malkovitch (1999)

Human Nature (2001)

Confessions of a Dangerous Man (2002)

Adaptation. (2002)

Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Synecdoche New York (2008)

Anomalisa (2016)



Original title : Human Nature

Realization : Michel Gondry

Screenplay : Charlie Kaufman

Main actors : Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans

Country of origin : France, U. S. A.

Released : September 12, 2001

Duration : 1h 36min

Distributor : Mars Distribution

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