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Fig. 1 Adaptation (2002) Film Poster
Spike Jonze’s 2002 American drama film ‘Adaptation’ staring Nicholas Cage and with screenwriting to its name from Charlie Kaufman is based on the non-fiction book ‘The Orchid Thief’ by Susan Orlean however, not in its entirety… Charlie Kaufman has been approached to write the screenplay for the up and coming adaptation of the novel ‘The Orchid Thief’ however, determined to stay true to the book as much as possible he starts to suffer a case of writer’s block realising that the book is as the screenwriters in the film put it, unfilmable. This is when Kaufman takes it upon himself to write himself into his screenplay, an action that cleverly shapes the film in more ways than one would think possible. This action turns the film completely on its head, it is no longer about ‘The Orchid Thief’ strangely enough taking the stance of being based on Kaufman’s own experience of screenwriting this exact film and bricolaging ideas from the original book instead. If this isn’t confusing enough then the ending which doesn’t seem to flow with the pace of the other two thirds of the film definitely is, or is it… If we look into the theory of postmodernism then this confusion seems to disappear instead arriving at a place where the film makes perfect sense. Many look at this idea as being sceptical of reality and Kaufman uses this ideology throughout the film even if it is well hidden. His own character of Charlie wants ‘to write a screenplay that avoids the tropes of his time, to escape genre and formula, to escape the past by writing a film that is unique and can only be valued on its own terms.’ (Dempsey: 2004) By doing this Charlie has taken on a postmodern assumption where he feels that the norm of filmmaking/screenwriting is just like reality because audiences are used to
seeing these scenarios take place. Charlie does not want to be part of this ‘reality’ instead insisting on rejecting it and creating his own with the help of including himself in the plot. This is an example of the postmodern hyper-reality because the film becomes what Kaufman’s consciousness believes is more real than actual reality for example, his fantasies of sexual encounters with women including the writer Susan Orlean.
Fig. 2 Charlie Kaufman faces writers block
Back to the last third of the film we can start to apply these postmodern beliefs of society and understand just why the film ends so… badly. Charlie’s brother Donald has also been writing a screenplay but instead of taking a similar approach to Charlie, Donald has been following the screenwriting frame that Robert McKee teaches. When he sells his screenplay for a big figure we begin to wonder whether Charlie should change the way he writes. But, this is just what the filmmakers want us to think. The norm approach of Donald’s screenplay becoming highly successful is just ending back in the familiar capitalist society we live in and without knowing it we’re still rooting for Charlie to write what he wants because it’s more personal. Adaptation takes ‘these very themes of the media-absorbed and degraded personal reality of the individual as their primary subject.’ (Boozer: 2008) There are key differences between the two brothers; they both represent different sides of reality. Donald, the capitalist and society friendly one who writes stories that are similar to those that already exist and, Charlie the isolated, awkward one who really should be seen as more interesting and realistic than Donald because of the independent thinking he seeks. The juxtaposition of these characters is a clever way of symbolising the unoriginal reality we live in and the one we try and find but somehow just borrow from what is already there.
Fig. 3 The juxtaposition of the Kaufmans.
This is when the ending comes to its own, it may feel out of place to a majority of the audience but it’s actually meant to feel this way. For two thirds we have followed Charlie’s subconscious but now it is time to follow Donald. ‘When the film shifts from Charlie’s stream-ofconsciousness film to his brother’s action film the spectator is pulled out of the involvement he had when following the former and pushed towards the latter, which starts suddenly without serious earlier development.’ (Ben-Shaul: 2007) The ending is unimpressive but that is exactly the way it should end because again the question of reality is raised. We are used to these type of endings and they usually feel real but not for ‘Adaptation’. The film has somehow made us reject this film ‘reality’ adopting our inner postmodern self.
Ben-Shaul, Nitzan. (2007) Film: The Key Concepts http://www.sfx.co.uk/2010/06/07/freakshowsuspiria/ (Accessed 30/09/2012) Boozer, Jack. (2008) Authorship in Film Adaptation. U.S.A. University of Texas Press(Accessed 30/09/2012) Dempsey, Jough. (2004) Adaptation: Beyond Postmodern. U.K. Berg. http://cinemareview.com/films/000006/index.php (Accessed 30/09/2012)
List of Illustrations
Fig. 1. Adaptation (2002) Film Poster From: Adaptation Directed by: Spike Jonze. [film poster] On blogspot.co.uk http://mediafirecorner.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/adaptation-2002-mediafirelinks.html (Accessed 30/09/2012) Fig. 2. Charlie Kaufman faces writers block (2002) From: Adaptation Directed by: Spike Jonze. [film still] On wordpress.com http://a2morrisbqegs.wordpress.com/ (Accessed 30/09/2012) Fig. 3. The juxtaposition of the Kaufmans (2002) From: Adaptation Directed by: Spike Jonze. [Film Still] On thefilmyap.com http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/01/10/adaptation/?_r=true (Accessed 30/09/2012)