Adaptation

March 5, 2008 at 4:26 pm 2 comments

Adaptation is a profound process. It means you figure out how to thrive in the world.

Yeah, but it’s easier for plants.

Adaptation (2002) is a film that reflects, amongst other things, on the existential problem of being, as one character puts it, trapped in bodies in moments of history. A balding and paunched Charlie Kaufman‘s (Nicolas Cage) withering self-critique, with which the film begins, is almost too much for this viewer to watch. It hits close to home.

While the viewer reflects on Kaufman’s flagellation, the film itself requires some adaptation. Here’s the pun: the film is concerned with adapting a novel into a screenplay, and the adaptation of characters to their lives. The whole business is a self-referential stew.

Here’s Wikipedia’s background:

The screenplay is partially based on a true story. After the success of his screenplay for Being John Malkovich, Kaufman was hired to write a screenplay based on Susan Orlean‘s book, The Orchid Thief. However, he soon realized that the book simply couldn’t be filmed. As he came under increasing pressure to turn in a screenplay, the “adaptation” became a story of a screenwriter’s attempt to write a screenplay about a book that cannot be adapted into a screenplay. Kaufman handed the script to his employers in the firm belief he would never work again. Instead, the backers enjoyed the script so much they decided to abandon the original project and film Kaufman’s screenplay instead.

The film includes a character named Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox), a real-life host of screenwriting seminars renowned for warning his students about the technique of the deus ex machina. When Kaufman was writing Adaptation., the real-life McKee was called in to offer criticism on three drafts of the screenplay. It was also McKee’s idea to have Brian Cox portray him in the film.

Part of what makes the film fun is the sense that the screenplay we’re watching is adapting before our eyes. When Kaufman’s brother Donald (also played by Cage) gets involved the film veers from Charlie’s Dallowayesque flower feature to the kind of manuscript his brother would submit: swampland noir. It’s quite a turn. I was set for the usual bourgeois art-flic with comedic highlights. The oh so sublimery of life’s grand exposition. To its credit the film doesn’t head there. It stays rooted in the wild what the fuck? of its own adaptation.

Raccoon’s post is here.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jeremy B  |  March 7, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    It hits close to home

    Whew, tell me about it. The first time I saw this film I think my deep reaction was something along the lines of “Kaufman knows!

    Reply
  • 2. skunkcabbage  |  March 8, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Yeah, exactly!! Painfully spot-on.

    Reply

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