Adaptation. is a self-reflexive film written by Charlie Kaufman, who eventually writes his desperation as he tries and fails to adapt Susan Orlean’s book ‘The Orchid Thief’ for the screen. Kaufman is the writer of impressively imaginative scripts of Hollywood such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche New York, Being John Malkovich; and in Adaptation., he writes himself writing himself into his script: “It’s self-indulgent! It’s narcissistic! It’s solipsistic! It’s pathetic! I’m pathetic and I’m fat and pathetic!”
The theme is obsession, or at least passion. The orchid thief from the book is John Laroche (Chris Cooper), who is obsessed about finding rare species of orchids. The writer Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) is obsessed about passion itself in terms of how far people are willing to go to follow theirs, and Adaptation. centers the desperation of a character without a desire. Nicholas Cage buoyantly portrays both Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother, Donald Kaufman.
“You are what you love, not what loves you.”
Donald is Charlie’s alter ego whom he both despises and wants to be. Donald, as an aspiring screenwriter, uses Hollywood clichés to succeed in no time whereas Charlie struggles to fulfil raised expectations. Admitting failure, Charlie first attends to Robert McKee’s screenwriting course, then asks for Donald’s help. As Charlie gives up the strings to Donald, we start to watch the alternate ending to The Orchid Thief, a Hollywood cliché from tip to toe, written by Donald.
“Okay. But, I’m saying, it’s like, I don’t want to cram in sex or guns or car chases, you know… or characters, you know, learning profound life lessons or growing or coming to like each other or overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end, you know. I mean… The book isn’t like that, and life isn’t like that. You know, it just isn’t. And… I feel very strongly about this.”
Yet, the film doesn’t end until everything Charlie despises occurs. It resembles an action movie that Nicholas Cage would as well lead in.
“If you wow them in the end, you succeeded.”
Did he, though? What I love about this brilliantly self-reflexive film is that Kaufman pushes the boundaries of scriptwriting. What we watch loses its importance against the motive behind. Charlie claims it is cheating to use voice over to tell how the character feels, even so the film is full of it. He openly criticizes every cliché aspect of Hollywood, and for him it is accepting failure to let Donald use those cheesy scenes. Eventually, what we watch in the end is an action movie of nonsense; but we enjoy Adaptation. as an unconventional film that is pretty far from hackneyed.
Isn’t it wow-worthy?