Sunday, 30 September 2012

Adaption (2002)

 (Fig 1. Film Poster)

'Adaption' is the award-winning 2002 film (Fig1) starring Nicholas Cage as two twin brothers: Donald Kaufman and Charlie Kaufman and Susan, played by Meryl Streep. The film's story revolves around Charlie Kaufman, who works as a film writer, and his imaginative block. He has difficulty attempting to  convert the book called "The Orchid Thief" into a fully-fledged Hollywood film. 

The film's plot is extremely jumbled and is intentionally so. The director, Spike Jonze only lets the audience catch glimpses of the full story here and there through a jumbled and disorganized plot, perhaps as if to simulate the way that Charlie reads and flicks through the book in an attempt to find meaning and inspiration.

Charlie Kaufman was based upon a real-life film-writer of the same name and this film portrays his struggle attempting to adapt the book into a film. He suffered with writer's block, but eventually resorted to writing about his struggle trying to write the script and screenplay.

The story starts with Laroche (Fig2) and his wife in a car; they are both head of a nursery in Florida, but the plot takes a violent twist as they're struck by another vehicle, resulting in his mother and uncle dead, his wife in a coma and Laroche's own front teeth missing. After regaining consciousness his wife sues and divorces him and a few months later his home is wrecked by Hurricane Andrew.

                               (Fig 2. Laroche)
Running in paralleled with the beginning of the film, we skip a few years later where Native Americans have hired Laroche due to the fact he has an incredible amount of knowledge on orchids and how to find them, eventually finding out that they use the orchids' extracted substances for drug use. After being arrested, he catches the interest the New Yorker journalist Susan Orlean. They become friends and Susan begins work on "The Orchid Thief", during which they fall in love.

Meanhile, Charlie Kaufman is in his throes of depression and his brother, Donald (Fig3), moves in with him. Donald then takes up the mantle of screenwriter and decides to write his own film, too. Kaufman, in 
real life, knew that he didn't have a very good story  
 when trying to adapt the book into a full movie There wouldn't be much of a plot if the main and only plot that took place in the real life was Charlie's writer's block. This is why he created a fictional brother for himself: Donald. Physically identical to him in every way but the opposite in the way of intelligence, Donald provided a perfect contrast for Charlie. Kaufman creates him to be completely devoid of any originality and to be the embodiment of everything that is 'dumb' about mainstream film.

(Fig 3. Kaufman Brothers)

In order to combat his writer's block, Charlie attends the lectures of Robert McKee, but finds out that the book is incapable of conventional narrative or endings.

On the opposite end of the scale, his brother, Donald, has finished his own script: a typical psychological thriller which manages to sell for thousands and Charlie begins to write himself into the Orchid Thief's film script. Kaufman did this in real life for this film, too and it was arguably an idea of genius.

"It is. But as outlandish and misshapen as it all sounds – it’s also remarkably intellectual. “Adaptation” is an ultimately watertight cross-genre detonation – that’s as funny and astute as it is awe-inspiring." (Morris, Clint, 2002)

Because of his writer's block, Kaufman resorted to writing himself into the story to both portray his endeavors in trying to write the story as well as Orlean's as she writes in her book. This provided a much more engaging story for the viewers than a film simply about Orchids.

 He doesn't manage to meet his deadline with the film company and visits McKee's lecture once again, and then bring in Donald to help with the script. This results in Donald attending an interview with Susan, posing as Charlie in an attempt to gain more insight, but the Donald figure out that she is lying. 

The twins follow Laroche and Orlean and observe them using of the Orchid's drug. Ironically, what the film was attempting to achieve as a deep, perplexing plot with unconventional techniques devolves into traditional, iconic Hollywood tropes through the next few scenes. Donald is shot in the arm and dies in a high-speed collision with a police car, Laroche is eaten by a crocodile and finally Susan is arrested. Charlie's writer's block is broken at last and he finishes the script. Kaufman seemed to have taken the easier route with the ending of this film, and floated back to the old tried-but-true Hollywood tropes that we all know. Kaufman almost deliberately resorts back to these tropes in order to point out to the audience just how watered-down mainstream Hollywood moves can be. It is a compilation of action-movie thriller tropes: drugs, sex, violence and car chases.

"At first you may think that the film cops out, succumbs to its own vices or maybe just finds itself painted into a corner from which there is no escape." (Joe Lozito, 2005)

Though film transformed from a deep, pretentious, emotional story to a mainstream action thriller, it says something about how certain things are not meant to be adapted into films without the certain mainstream tropes which keep things interesting.


Lozito, Joe (2005) (Accessed 30/09/12)

Morris, CLint (2002) (Accessed 30/09/12)


Fig 1. Film Poster (No date available) (Accessed 30/09/12)

Fig 2. Laroche (No date available) (Accessed 30/09/12)

Fig 3. Kaufman Brothers (No date available) (Accessed 30/09/12)

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