Adaptation (2002) (R)















Let me preface this review by saying that I plan on spoiling this whole movie and everything there is to it. You are warned.
Charlie Kaufman is one of the best screenwriters of our time, he penned "Being John Malkovich" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". But although he's famed for making complex scripts, "Adaptation" is a whole new animal.
"Adaptation" is about "Adaptation". It's a film that self-referencially about itself. It starts out at the end of filming "Being John Malkovich", Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze's last collaboration. The main character here is Charlie Kaufman who is played by Nicolas Cage. Kaufman is unhappy with life, he's fat and balding and feels that he can't find a true bit of inspiration. Then he meets with a woman who offers him to convert the book "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean into a screenplay. He accepts and then is cornered into not sure how to take a book that's about a man who likes flowers and turn it into a full length movie. He bounces from idea to idea yet still can't get a grasp on what he wants.
Meanwhile, Susan Orlean and the subject for her book, John Laroche, don't exactly hit it off on first meetings. She thinks that he's a dreamer and slightly crazy. He hunts orchids because he thinks that there's some kind of profit in them. He's in search for The Ghost, a rare orchid that grows in the swamps of Florida. But gradually, his confidence and laisseiz faire attitude win her over and she begins to fall in love with him.
Charlie's twin brother Donald, is having all the success in the world. He's writing a thriller called "The 3" in which all the characters end up being the same person. Charlie clearly thinks that he's an idiot. But Donald is thriving and Charlie's not.
Charlie stuggles with what to write about and starts to suffer from insomnia, he begins to obsess over Susan Orlean and decides that he needs to meet her. At the last minute, in a very Kaufman-like way, he has to back out because he's scared. The movie drags at this point, trying to emphasize a theme of wanting that intangible love and passion for an unknown substance.
At the beginning of the movie a character makes a comment about how they'd like to have a portal into Kaufman's mind, making a "Being John" joke. Kaufman gives us just that here.
Charlie is in love with a woman named Amelia, but because of the character that he's created about himself, he's unable to pursue a relationship with her.
Then! A flash of inspiration! He decides to write himself into the script. He goes back and writes the beginning scene of "Adaptation" in his screenplay and you begin to realize that you're watching a movie about the movie itself.
Then he hits a dead end, he doesn't know where to go from there. At a suggestion from a friend, he collaborates with his twin brother Donald and the viewer remembers in the opening credits that Donald's name was on the screenplay.
So Donald and Charlie track Susan Orlean down, she's heading back to Florida to be with John because her husband's not as exciting as the orchid stealing man.
When she gets down there, Charlie and Donald tail her to John's house, Charlie has a sudden flash of manliness and decides to go investigate. He finds that this Ghost orchid is being cultivated in a greenhouse by John to make a new illegal drug. He gets spotted by the couple and Susan decides that she's going to kill him. She drags him out into the swamps and attempts to kill him but her plan is foiled by Donald who was hiding. Donald and Charlie escape into the swamp and spend the night there, talking and relating to each other.
The next morning they manage to get out alive with only one gunshot wound and then Charlie wrecks while driving and Donald is thrown from the car and killed. Susan is right on his tail again and chases him back into the swamp with John where John is devoured by a crocodile and Susan cries a little. Charlie goes back to his home and kisses Amelia because apparently Donald's death gave him the courage he needed.
Then he drives away to go finish the screenplay and says to himself in voiceover about how he'd like the screenplay to end when he drives away and thinks of a way to end the screenplay.
INSTRUCTIONS TO UNDERSTANDING THIS:
1. Take a mirror.
2. Walk into your bathroom.
3. Hold the mirror up in front of the bathroom mirror
4. See how the mirror is duplicated again and again, seemingly getting farther and farther away.
5. COMPREHENSION!
That's basically what the movie is. You are trapped between two mirrors but this isn't "Inception".
I was making comparisons in my head with "Magnolia" because they are both weird and complicated and have unsatisfying endings and they both have something to do with flowers.
After finishing I discovered that Donald Kaufman is a made up character.
I also watched an interview with the real life Susan Orlean who states some opinions that are interesting. She thinks, like most, that Charlie Kaufman is a genius and a very discerning man. In the end, I'm not sure she was happy with the movie. I mean, who wants to see their book become something like that?
It's frustrating and frankly a let down. A lot of people liked it. I applaud Spike Jonze for making it, because no one else could have and I shake my finger at Kaufman. I demand better. If you want good Kaufman watch "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind".

Score: 1 and a half stars out of 4

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