Cinema Club: Adaptation (2002)

Posted on July 30, 2013


Adaptation (2002, Spike Jonze)

The first thing that came to mind after watching this film? Masturbation. Well, despite its numerous appearances in the film, I’m not talking about literal masturbation. I’m talking about the self. Self loathing, self referencing, self obsessing, self esteem, self assessment. Adaptation’ is choc full of the stuff, whether it is in the movie itself or in the writing or in the directing or in the fictional versions of the nonfictional characters. Whether it is Nicholas Cage’s portrayal of writer Charlie Kaufman in all its self loathing wonder, or flower poacher John Laroche’s obsession with self evolution, it’s everywhere. And good christ is it good.

The film mostly revolves around Kaufman, who has been approached to make a film adaptation of a book written by Susan Orlean, a fairly well settled writer for the New Yorker, called ‘The Orchid Thief’. The book itself is about John Laroche, a Florida chap who poaches orchids. Kaufman struggles and struggles to get anything done with regards to the script, a problem that is exacerbated by his fool of a brother Donald, who manages to put together a script of such ridiculousness that it is swept up by Kaufman’s agent. The time spent watching Charles struggle is interspersed with flashback type scenes of Orlean writing her article on Laroche, and her own personal search for meaning and passion. It is quickly apparent that through her meetings with Laroche she is using him in the hope that his passions will rub off on her. Laroche for his part is bizarrely engaging as something of a lovable rouge, who almost incidentally frequently makes observations on Orelan’s life.

As the screenplay goes nowhere, Charles heads to New York in order to meet Orlean, in the hope of inspiration. Everything quickly spirals down, and Charles asks his brother out to New York for help. All of a sudden, Donald becomes less immensely annoying and more awesomely helpful, offering to interview Orlean in Charles’ place. Despite her denial it turns out she is still seeing Laroche for ghost orchid drug sex fun times joy. The Kaufman’s do a bit of stalking, and everything goes terribly wrong from there. That’s as far as my spoilers are going. Maybe.

So yeah, masturbation. The amount of self deprecation and self referencing in the movie is huge, to the point of it being actually kinda glorious. Charles frequently talks about not wanting to make a Hollywood type adaption of ‘The Orchid Thief’, and thats exactly what ‘Adaptation’ ends up being. The sex, the drugs, the thrills, they find a way of seeping into the film in their own right, climaxing in the Hollywood ending Kaufman’s character is so against throughout. It’s wonderful, funny, clever.

Nicholas Cage is, and I’m not sure how to type this, but he is fantastic throughout. Whether it is as the neurotic self loathing Charles or the intellectually non existent but confident Donald, he genuinely shines. Indeed, the shadow archetype relationship between the two is one of the most fascinating things about a continually fascinating film, with Donald representing everything that Charlie rejects about himself and his profession. Donald’s screenplay, ‘The 3’, is full of everything Charles despises. Car chases, multiple personalities, murder, thrilling climaxes. And yes, of course, that’s exactly how ‘Adaptation’ ends up. It is beautifully done.

‘Adaptation’ is also full of brilliantly worded asides on the title and its theme, a theme that is visited in many different routes throughout. Whether it is the adaptation of the article into a book, or the book into a film, or Orlean into a human of passion, or Kaufman’s script and relationship with his brother, it’s all in there. A brilliantly multi-faceted movie that is both hilarious yet terrifyingly real at the same time.

Posted in: Cinema, Reviews