curiouser and curiouser

Adaptation (complete)

1) Adaptation is a meta-film in the vein of Tristram Shandy : A Cock and Bull Story without some of the more perplexing layers – Nicholas Cage’ double role as Charlie and Donald Kaufman is definite, and never are we puzzled as to who is doing what or fitting where.  Despite the film’s basis in reality, deviations such as the fictional Donald, scenes from The Orchid Thief movie that does not actually exist, and the peculiar ending give the story its fantastical element as well as serving to emphasize the real Charlie Kaufman’s struggle as he was attempting to write The Orchid Thief’s adaptation.  There is a continuous theme of evolution from the very beginning of the film, with Kafuman/Cage’s voice over the high-speed elapses of time showcasing animal decomposition and the big bang, amongst other images.  Kaufman/Cage does not undergo an evolution so much as a metamorphosis, aided by Donald and their bizarre adventure through the swamp.  The search for passion is a theme that runs throughout the multiple layers of the film, with John Laroche, Susan Orlean, and the brothers Kaufman each propelled by their own personal ventures – whether this creates a cohesive narrative or a fractured yet brilliantly acted film is up for interpretation.

2) The excerpt from The Orchid Thief reads as an article with nothing to suggest that there is a story or anything substantially filmable aside from the brief court scene and Orlean’s ride in Laroche’s rusty van.  Susan Orlean’s thoughts are in the present tense, her retelling of John Laroche’s history in the past – as we go back and forth, it is easy to see why Charlie Kaufman had such a difficult time attempting to adapt The Orchid Thief as a screenplay.  Despite this, Orlean’s descriptive powers neither thrust Laroche upon us or understate him as a real-life character, rather presenting him as an intriguing figure who hasn’t quite found his great success but who exists as a body in constant motion.  The writing is clean and clear, a satisfying balance between dialogue and action in the few scenes where there is any dialogue or action at all. 

3)  Discussion board about the film  Interview with Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman Discussion board about Nicolas Cage, several mentions of Adaptation as one of his few good projects

The first link is a good resource for how average people (rather than professional critics and journalists) respond to the movie, especially some of the more negative reviews and the posts that question the film’s significance – not everyone agrees with critics or the Academy, and the majority of us are not film scholars.  Viewers who were unfamiliar with The Orchid Thief seem to respond more negatively, in general, which is understandable – without understanding how difficult the original text is to adapt, it can be difficult to understand why Kaufman/Cage is having such trouble and why the film takes its bizarre turns.

4) In the film Adaptation, are the director Spike Jonze and the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman suggesting that a true film adaptation of a literary work is impossible? Or are they saying that some kinds of literary works are impossible to film? Or are they saying that it is precisely the impossible books that film-makers should try to adapt?

The impossibility of a true film adaptation of a literary work is almost a given, as common sense and cinematic precedents have proven that something is inevitably lost or altered in the transition from one medium to another – words and images can certainly have a direct correspondence, but as Kaufman/Cage’s plight reveals, there exists nothing like a perfect narrative wherein every scene is described down to the last detail and no room is left for interpretation.  There is no need for Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman to suggest what is more or less a known fact, and instead they focus on the difficulties involved with the particular story in question, blending reality and fiction to provide layers of narration that are easier to follow than Tristam Shandy but no more seamless or less disjointed than the latter.  The Orchid Thief is a true story and should, theoretically, be easier to adapt – the main problem seems to be Susan Orlean’s first-person narration, which is so full of personal perspective and humorous commentary that it necessitates a focus not only on her story but her voice.  The difficulty of presenting a first-person, non-fiction book without a running voice-over is manifested in Kaufman/Cage’s own voice-over and the idea that it is a lazy method as put forth by Robert McKee.  At one point in the film while Kaufman/Cage is discussing his efforts in writing The Orchid Thief’s screenplay, he blurts out “There’s no story!  There’ s no story!” – here is the crux of the issue, and this declaration is a turning point in which we see that the film is not simply Orlean’s story, nor is it Kaufman’s story or Laroche’s story; rather, it is the story of attempting to create a story where there is none.

Comments on: "Adaptation (complete)" (1)

  1. You forgot to analyze the book excerpt. Everything else is well done. Right now your grade for this assignment is 8/10, but if you go back to read and analyze the book excerpt, I’ll change it to a 10/10.

    Joseph Byrne

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