“No two artists are the same” – Prof. Paul Razza
Adaptation (2002), directed by Spike Jonze, written by Charlie Kaufman. This film is about a lovelorn script writer who grows increasingly desperate in his quest to adapt the book The Orchid Thief. The movie itself is inspired by the book, but isn’t an exact adaptation. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman creates a completely new concept in Adaptation. The film walks a fine line between fiction and non-fiction — only, if you haven’t read the book, you don’t know which is which.
This post is a quick analysis of the film, so if you haven’t seen it yet, be warned. There aren’t any major spoilers or anything, but I do go into some detail. Again… Be warned.
One of the first things I noticed while watching this movie was that most, if not all, Hollywood actors were cast. It’s common to do this, of course, but the kicker is that all of them played real people. For example, Nicholas Cage as Charlie Kaufman (the screenwriter for the movie), and Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean (the author of The Orchid Thief). The list goes on. While I was watching the film, I kept getting flustered over the story, wondering if it was real or not. I had never read, or even heard of the book, so when the story lines jumped from the adaptation to the writing of the adaptation, I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was actually in the book or if the screenwriter and author were just narrating as they went along.
In the beginning of the movie, we see the beginning of time (e.g. dinosaurs and stuff). Later on in the film, we watch as Nicholas Cage’s Charlie actually writes out the beginning of Adaptation. I thought that was very interesting writing because the entire movie writes (and pokes fun at) itself. Adaptation is like a paradox — Charlie Kaufman writes a movie about himself writing that same movie about the adaptation of The Orchid Thief.
Adaptation constantly takes jabs at its own creation. Several times during the movie, it has acknowledged its own existence. The movie has a bunch of voiceovers portraying Charlie’s thoughts; meanwhile, the characters advise that films should never have voiceovers in them because it’s “sloppy” and “lazy” writing. One character even says that if one should use a voiceover in their screenplay, then “God help you”.
Charlie’s struggle in the film is that he wants to create a simple adaptation of the book. The Orchid Thief is about flowers so he wants the movie to be about flowers. No excitement, no action, no drama. Just flowers. He spends the entire movie with writer’s block because he has no idea how to make a movie about just flowers (because… who does?). He’s stubborn at first and doesn’t want to ask anyone for their opinion. It takes him the entire movie to realize that asking for help isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes it’s just the thing a person needs. His brother and friend clears him of his writer’s block and he finishes most of the script. Now, if only he could figure out the ending….
Oooh! Close! But no cigar! The film is really good, though, Kaufman! I would definitely buy it and recommend it to my friends. The only thing: it doesn’t keep you captivated throughout the whole movie unless you’ve seen it already because you don’t know what to expect and at some points, it feels too long. I kept checking the time and thinking, “It’s almost over! I wonder what the ending will be!” Except it wasn’t almost over. There was still another 45 minutes left.
As I’ve noted before, the audience gets to experience Adaptation being written while watching the film. I’m confusing myself… Anyway, as far as creativity is concerned, this film really makes its mark. I love that it laughs at itself for using voice overs and selling out the ending. I love that Charlie Kaufman decided to put himself and the author in the adaptation of the book. This is one movie that has (almost) all originality within it. Bravo, Kaufman. You did good.
<<SPOILERS AHEAD. TURN BACK NOW!>>
The film ends with the audience wondering if it was all true. Did his brother, Donald, die in a car accident? Was the author a drug addict? Did her lover get eaten by alligators? In the end, Charlie sells out and does everything he said he wouldn’t do. He adds drama, sex, action. The works. And it was a perfect ending! Film adaptations of books will never be what people expect. The books are typically 420 pages, while a screenplay is around 125 pages. Books are allowed to have a sad and realistic ending, but that’s not what makes a Hollywood motion picture.