Adaptation

I’d intended to keep all the movie-related stuff out of the blog and in the “Cinematic Smackdown” section, but apparently it’s going to take more time than I’ve got to get the rest of this website up.

I was talking about Solaris last night and was reminded of Adaptation, which is one of my Favorite Movies Ever That I’ve Only Seen Once For Fear That It Wouldn’t Be As Good the Second Time (I saw it again tonight, and it was just as good). It hadn’t occurred to me before, but in some ways they deal with similar concepts.

Even though I loved Being John Malkovich, I’d avoided seeing Adaptation because a friend had told me she’d hated it. Too self-indulgent, too much reliance on a gimmick. But I was out to see Chicago one night and could only endure about 15 minutes of it before I bolted and ran, sneaking into another theater.

Just an idea of how much it connected with me: It starts off with a voice-over on a black screen, and it took me a minute to realize that the movie had started and I wasn’t still listening to my internal monologue. Over the next two hours it talks about the creation of the world, orchids, romance, music, self-doubt, fear, over-thinking relationships, alienation, identity, irony, Hollywood, writer’s block, death, the creative process, the struggle to achieve, and movie-making. And a lot of people seemed to miss the point by thinking that the last 30 minutes or so were a cheap cop-out or a too-clever gimmick, when the “joke” ending is actually the core concept of the entire project, realized.

It’s too simplistic to say that the message of the movie is “don’t over-think everything.” Susan Orlean, in The Orchid Thief, cast herself as a character in the story and talked as much about her perception of the world she’d discovered as the flowers and the people themselves. She used the orchids and her travels with LaRoche as a metaphor for self-discovery and the idea that searching for something that’s always just out of reach can be more satisfying than actually discovering it.

In his adaptation of the book, Charlie Kaufman casts himself (and his imaginary brother) as a character in the story and uses the process of writing the adpataion as a metaphor for his own self-perception and his own self-doubt, the idea that his life could be like a screenplay — figure out everyone’s motivations, follow their story, and reach the logical conclusion. The world he knew existed only in his mind, and all the people he knew were merely, like his brother, different aspects of his own personality. He had to get rid of the notion of “this is the way the story is supposed to play out” and just let it play out on its own. And then find meaning out of it.

When you hear Orlean talk about the movie (she has an overly-cute but interesting and relevant Q&A with herself in the latest editions of The Orchid Thief) it makes that side of it even more clear. Is she offended by her ridiculous, over-the-top portrayal in Adaptation? No, and not just because it’s clearly a parody, but because that’s not her. It’s not even Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her. It’s Streep’s portrayal of Kaufman’s perception of the character of her as necessary for his movie. Kaufman (the character) spends much of the later half of the movie getting over his insecurity and trying to get to know “the real Susan Orlean,” and of course the ending reveals that he can’t and likely never will.

It’s a lot more profound than I can describe here even if this weren’t already over-long, which is exactly why it was such a remarkable screenplay. I really need to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, because I hear it’s also got a lot to say about perception vs. reality, especially in regards to relationships. But it’s also got Jim Carrey.

And on a personal note, since this is a blog after all, this has been a very weird weekend. Weird, but wonderful. I think I’ve finally started to realize that I don’t have everything figured out, and I probably will never have everything figured out. But I’m no longer horrified at the concept. Once you’ve figured it out, once you’ve reached the happy ending, the story’s over. And I’m still enjoying myself too much, seeing how everything plays out.

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