Adaptation by Kitty Guo
Kitty Guo sits at her laptop, faces a blank Google document, and, in order to convey the genius of Adaptation, types out, “in order to convey the genius of Adaptation.”
Adaptation is about a screenwriter struggling to adapt a book about flowers-
No, no, I can’t say that, because it’s not entirely true. Or at least, it’s partly true, but it’s merely one layer of a film that, like an onion, peels away to reveal dozens more.
Let me try again: Adaptation is a sprawling tale of several lives intertwining that touches upon the timeless themes of love, relationships, identity, passion, a screenwriter’s fear of selling out…wait, what?
It’s impossible to summarize; it’s not a movie that follows a logical progression. The stories of the different characters are told in a nonlinear fashion as the camera skips from Charlie Kaufman to Susan Orlean to John Laroche, each caught up in his or her own personal drama, pausing to acknowledge the others only when their bubbles collide. It’s as if the final editor jumbled the clips out of order and accidentally added in a few from a nature documentary.
Flowers feature prominently in the film, specifically orchids, with the very first shot of the film being that of a rare white ghost orchid, delicate and ethereal. This lovely image is promptly succeeded by a time lapse video of a dead, decomposing fox, paramecium crawling out of hot mineral springs, and dinosaurs surveying their stomping grounds, before finally settling on the sweat-soaked forehead of Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage).
Despite the disarray, it’s still a tremendous film, one that deserves several re-viewings because I’m sure I didn’t catch all the subtle nuances the first time. Charlie Kaufman does it again with his screenwriting genius, breathing new life into the word meta, openly flirting with a gimmick other writers shy away from. Along with his partner in crime, director Spike Jonze, Kaufman embraces the surreal and the bizarre with open arms, somehow managing to craft a tale that successfully marries zaniness, self-awareness, and humanness.
Nicholas Cage’s portrayal of twins is spot on. They couldn’t be more different: one brilliant yet socially inept, the other charismatic yet dim-witted, their sharp-tongued repartee is humorously touching. Supporting cast members Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep provide great subplot fodder as their taboo whirlwind relationship unfolds in lurching increments.
The ending rolls around, and the movie cheats spectacularly; it’s the cinematic equivalent of marking the deck. But it fits. Rather than walk away feeling fleeced, which is the usual (and justified) reaction to a deus ex machina, the audience is still satisfied, because the movie already acknowledged it was going to happen.
This is more than just a movie about a man writing a screenplay about a book about a newspaper article about a court case…it’s about everything and everyone, including myself.
I see myself in Laroche, susceptible to short bursts of intense, all-consuming passion before losing interest just as quickly. I see myself in Kaufman, paralyzed by writer’s block and social ineptitude, surrounded by a sea of discarded ideas. I see myself in Orlean, struggling to infuse meaning into both her work and her life.
Adaptation is odd. It’s an odd movie that commentates on the creative process by completely dismantling it. It’s experimental, confusing, chaotic, thought-provoking, and brilliant as hell.