Spike Jonze’s story within a story (within a story) film Adaptation. (2002) highlights the struggle with adapting a film from a novel. Named one of the best films of 2002, and with countless Oscar nominations, I went into this film expecting to be wow’d, but I came away just trying to process what I had watched.
Adaptation tells the story of Charlie Kaufman (known for writing the screenplay for “Being John Malkovich”) and his attempt to adapt the book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean into a film. Kaufman runs into a few problems though, primarily that the book doesn’t have enough drama, enough substance, to make “The Orchid Thief” into a viable film. Kaufman’s solution, and what I can only assume was his solution in real life, was to write himself into the film. He takes some liberties, of course, including completely transforming Susan’s character into an online nude girl and drug addict, and developing a fictional twin brother, Donald.
Donald hung around long enough to help Kaufman realize that every cliche in movies was needed to adapt “The Orchid Thief” from a ordinary, non-fiction book about John Laroche into an action-packed, dramatization of screenwriting. But once his role was complete, Kaufman made no qualms about (Spoiler Alert!) killing off his alter-ego twin.
What makes Adaptation so unique and entertaining is the complex story line, which is built on itself. When Kaufman attends a screenwriting course because he can’t finish “The Orchid Thief” and learns he hasn’t actually had a story for the first three quarters of the film, suddenly even piece of advice is placed into the film (drugs, sex, a car chase) and all within the last 30 minutes. But maybe that is what the story needed. I’m not saying Kaufman allowed the first part of the movie to drag on, but almost every bit of action occurs in the finals scenes down in Florida.
This is a difficult story style to write and it can go terribly wrong; but I think Charlie Kaufman did it perfectly.
- I will never be able to get the image of a balding, overweight Nicholas Cage masturbating out of my head… no matter how much I would like to.
- Chris Cooper more than deserved his Oscar for playing John Laroche.