Adaptation

1. The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean is part of a relatively new genre of “creative nonfiction.” Orlean writes about LaRoche, a real person and botany enthusiast, and his orchid stealing operation in Florida. The book is based off her original piece in The New Yorker about this subject. The genre of creative nonfiction is called such because while the subjects are nonfiction, the author of the piece adds their own distinctive voice and thoughts into it. Orlean put her own spin on LaRoche as a fascinating character, where the rest of the world might have seen him as just some weirdo; her melancholic musings about a lack of passion in her own life give the book a unique tone that has been thought of as impossible to adapt to film.

2. The film version, called Adaptation, is a metafictional take on The Orchid Thief, screenwriting, and Hollywood itself. It follows Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter (and the actual screenwriter of Adaptation, here played by Nicholas Cage) who has been tasked with writing a screenplay for Susan Orlean’s (played by Meryl Streep) book. Charlie is an anxious, socially awkward 40-something who struggles against the current of “sellout” screenwriters like his brother Donald (also Nic Cage). Charlie wants to stay true to The Orchid Thief, capture the spirit of it, while Donald (and his screenwriting teacher) advise him to add some “drama” and “action” or no one will want to see the movie. This ends up being a movie about attempting to make a movie that’s true to the artistic side, rather than being truly about The Orchid Thief and its subjects.

3. Of all the films we’ve watched in class so far, Adaptation is probably the most different from its source text. It runs along similar veins as Tristram Shandy in that it’s incredibly meta; it’s a movie about the difficulty of adapting a non-traditional book for the screen. The largest criticism of this semi-adaptation is that it’s just plain unacceptable; it’s Kaufman copping out of writing out a difficult script. By making this meta-movie, Jonze and Kaufman have deprived viewers of a real Orchid Thief movie, which, presumably, many would rather have seen. Some critics seem to think that this movie violated the valid expectations of viewers everywhere by not giving them a real adaptation. Other critics, however, in agreement that the book just wasn’t filmable, praised Kaufman and Jonze’s adaptation for its originality and nearly flawless execution.

4. http://nymag.com/nymetro/movies/reviews/n_8075/ This article, though a review, is important in that it focuses on the film’s heavy auras of defeatism and regret amongst its main characters.

http://sensesofcinema.com/2003/feature-articles/adaptation/ This article, from one of our research links, points to Adaptation as being more of an achievement in entertainment than as a “truly substantive work.” It points out the film’s limitations in comparison to Being John Malkovich (Jonze & Kaufman’s previous joint project), specifically pointing to the film’s ending as a deus ex machina. The most potent point the article makes is that, while the movie claims to be disdainful of Hollywood cliches and conventions, it never truly subverts them. It indulges them in its final moments without providing clarity as to whether or not satire was intended.

http://brightlightsfilm.com/out-of-his-head-metaphysical-escape-attempts-in-the-screenplays-of-charlie-kaufman/#.VL86bi5RK3M This article, also from one of our research sites, talks about Kaufman’s screenwriting at large. When it specifically addresses Adaptation it is regarding its references to Ourobourus, the snake eating its own tail.

5. How does the film reflect the perils and pleasures of writing? How does the writing process differ, for instance, between Susan and Charlie? How about between Donald and Charlie?

This film, in its focus on three different writers, manages to highlight both the perils and pleasures of writing; each character–Donald, Charlie, Susan–experiences both. Susan Orlean, in writing the original Orchid Thief, seems fascinated and enriched by her encounters with Laroche. However, in spending time with this man, whose life is entirely dominated by a different intense passion every few years, Orlean becomes melancholy in her realization that she lacks such passion in her own life. In exploring the life of Laroche, she becomes dissatisfied with the way she lives, and this movie version of her ends up engaging in several destructive behaviors in retaliation, the most severe of which is the attempted murder of Charlie and Donald. Donald mostly sees the pleasures of screenwriting; he appears to put almost no effort into his pandering, formulaic script, and is rewarded with a six-figure contract. However, in the movie’s bizarre ending, Donald is killed; his journey to help his brother write his script ends in his death, and it’s hard not to see his death as symbolic. Out of the three, Charlie experiences the most pain during the creative process; he is crippled by stress and anxiety to the point that he becomes incapable of writing the script. His failure accomplish this task forces him to stare all of his perceived flaws and shortcomings in the face; his relationships suffer along with his livelihood. However, even he achieves some transcendence when the project is finally completed; he manages to maintain a sense of artistry while indulging just enough in Hollywood cliches to make the script sell. Adaptation does a great job of encompassing all of the not-so-glamorous parts of screenwriters’ lives; it pulls back the glossy veneer of Hollywood life and exposes the raw underbelly, in more ways than one.

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