Adaptation. review by Cinema Guru BoyTHIS ESSAY CONTAINS SPOILERS -- SO DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW KEY PLOT POINTS OF ADAPTATION. However this is really more of a musing on a theory about the film as opposed to a review.
Adaptation will inevitably be compared relentlessly to Being John Malkovich, if not only because they share a director and a writer in Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, respectively, but also for their sense of meta-physicality. They both involve actual people as characters, although while Malkovich had John Malkovich and Charlie Sheen playing, in essence, themselves, or characters based on them, Adaptation had actors playing actual people, as Nicolas Cage portrayed Charlie Kaufman, Meryl Streep played Susan Orlean and Chris Cooper played the orchid thief, John Laroche. Although both films use actual events from these people's lives, they are integrated into the fictional story.
Adaptation is not an adaptation, regardless of the film's title or its Academy categorization. It may have been inspired by a source material, but this is not an adaptation of The Orchid Theif.
From what I understand, the screenplay for Adaptation began when Charlie Kaufman was contracted to write the screenplay for Orchid, only to become blocked upon trying to stay loyal to a book that is not a narrative. So he wrote an entirely new screenplay. This is not an adaptation, merely an influence. Orchid was about flowers, passion, disappointment. Had it been loyally adapted to the screen, it probably would've been a documentary. Adaptation was a story surrounding the book itself, but does not uphold its themes as the central structure of the film. It instead is a satire of Hollywood, about an artist's attempt at mainstream success without selling out. It may have had a couple characters in common with Orchid, and even referenced multiple passages from the book, but this does not make this an adaptation, but only an inspiration, as stated.
As for the theme of this film, it became increasingly obvious that, as stated, this is about an absract artist's desire to go mainstream. Charlie Kaufman creating the character of Charlie Kaufman was able to create a character established as talented with his success of Being John Malkovich as well as tortured with his difficulty in writing The Orchid Theif. Everything that exists within the character of Charlie Kaufman as introverted and artistic as he is represents the wirter's own id. Whereas the character of Donald Kaufman, the aspiring rookie writer who takes the seminars, follows the textbook rules of screenwriting, and leans toward genre pictures, as extroverted and mainstream as he is, represents the writer's ego. At one point, Donald brings up the point of wanting to make the main characters in his screenplay the same character. Charlie (the character, as I will refer to him, as opposed to Kaufman, as I will refer to the writer of this film, the "real person") argues that technique is overused in mainstream art and must be handled with care as not to cheat the viewer. It seems possible that Kaufman practiced this technique and created two characters, Charlie and Donald, to represent one person; this being the very concept Charlie discredited. So Kaufman integrated this mainstream technique in an abstract way.
Therefore, it can be reasoned that Charlie and Donald do indeed represent the same person, as this person's id and ego. The only time in the film whe the characters were shown at the same time in different places was when they were on the phone with each other, Charlie in New York, trying to meet Susan, and Donald in LA, playing Boggle with Catherine Keener (Catherine Keener) and Caroline Cunningham (Maggie Gyllenhaal) from the set of Malkovich. Charlie never left his hotel in new York, which can go to reason that he never left LA and his "call" was his working up the nerve to go to LA to meet Susan, calling upon his alter ego to do this. None of the characters ever refered to them separately either. His agent Marty Bowen (Ron Livingston) made reference to Donald's screenplay, on which Charlie could have put Donald's name as a pseudonym (as Kaufman did on Adaptation). And when Charlie called is mom to tell her of Donald's death, he did not do so. He only cried. It only makes sense that Kaufman included this concept he was so against into his film.
A couple more obsrvations of Kaufman squeezing in mainstream concepts. When speaking to the studio executive Valerie Thomas (Tilda Swinton), she suggested that in his screenplay, Charlie have Susan Orlean and John Laroche fall in love. Charlie diplomatically breaks into a rant about staying true to the book, making the film less about characters and more about flowers. However, Kaufman makes his movie very much about characters, and in the end, it comes out that Susan is involved with John, thus contridicting the morals of the very character with his namesake. During the rant, Charlie states he doesn't want car chases or guns in his film, that's not what he's about. And he tells Donald he doesn't include grizzly death scenes in his films. That's not what he's about. Then, the seminar professor Robert McKee (Brian Cox) tears apart the use of voice-over narration, and most importantly, a film must have a hard-core ending. Throughout the film, Charlie demonizes McKee's teachings as mainstream schlock. Yet all these elements are included in Kaufman's climax, although all in an artistic way.
Charlie acknowledges writing himself into the screenplay as self-indulgent, and he's entirely right. To have the nerve to think people are so familiar with him to know this whole back story, or to even want to see him as the lead character in a film is putting himself on an extremely high pedestal. But he balences it with continuely endearing self-deprecation. He is able to relate to everyone by his building up his courage in his mind, only to then chicken out, something everyone does regularly. So Kaufman's self-indulgence does not come across as arrogance, it is done in a way that is necessary to his artistic vision.
Adaptation is not about flowers. It is about Hollywood and mainstream audiences. It is about how an abstract artist can give the audience what it wants without doing so in a conventional way, almost as if to prove a point. Maybe that point is that the audience doesn't actually want what they think they want. Maybe it is that there is a way to tip-toe around selling out without comprimising one's morals. Or maybe, just like Charlie says in the film, he's just trying to grow as a writer and write something unlike his Malkovich effort, only to realize he hasn't grown as a wirter, solidifying his meta-physical reputation. Whatever it may be, Charlie Kaufman has proved in trying to make a mainstream film adapted from a critically acclaimed book, an artist cannot be stifled.
10 out of 10 Jackasses blog comments powered by Disqus
IMDB Link: Adaptation.
DVD Relase Date: 2003-04-20
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
DVD Extras: Cast & filmmaker filmographies; Trailer
- Human Nature
- The Manchurian Candidate
- National Treasure
- The Weather Man
- Friends with Money
- The Devil Wears Prada
Interested in writing for Jackass Critics? E-mail Matt