There’s a feeling that comes into my head when I’m trying to write something that I end up thinking it’s only going to come off as unbelievably self-indulgent, which I suppose might be the best way to go on with talking about a film like Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. Adaptation, Charlie Kaufman’s most indulgent script, and yet by a mile it is also one of his most fascinating experiments to date. But maybe it’s because I always watch this and look back at what it is that I’m doing, and after having achieved so much success, I know I don’t want to disappoint. I know I don’t want to disappoint numerous people who have followed along me, so I come to the point I stint my own writing for long periods of time. But for a man like Charlie Kaufman, it’s already hard enough from what I can imagine to follow up a film like Being John Malkovich for as bizarre and as clever as its own concept is, and it’s that sense of honesty that allows me to admire Adaptation all the more.
Charlie Kaufman is (somewhat) telling his own story, just as well as he is trying to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief into a film. After the success of Being John Malkovich, now comes a project planned by Jonathan Demme, to be brought over to Columbia Pictures – a studio that aims for mass appeal. With a story like The Orchid Thief coming, it isn’t easy to form a solid idea of what you would want to turn the story into if you have one idea and then a bigger authority would have something else. This conflicted ideal is reflected so thoroughly in Adaptation, for it is only a film most fittingly self-indulgent as it is bizarre in its very own ways, by blending fiction and reality, creating a project most evidently meta in a clever manner, for it only brings oneself closer to a writer’s thought process in the way that Charlie Kaufman would be seeing every ounce of pressure coming right for him.
I remember having been able to consistently write long review after another, but because of the fact I had only recently graduated high school, it bogged my mind all the more. I think I’m in the mood to write something more about a film I’m so firm with my stance on, and then suddenly I ended up losing track of why I’ve come to that conclusion. In my real life, I found it difficult to make friends because I’ve never been able to have much of a social experience for I never had very much to talk about to start a conversation. And even though my future has been on my mind, I keep finding myself getting distracted so easily. And no matter how I drown out these distractions, they still come back to me because I always struggle with keeping my own focus anywhere. And after coming back to my own writing, I’m stinted again because I can’t keep my mind straight half the time because I look back at what I did before I was distracted and suddenly want to talk about something else.
But enough about me, there’s a lot of respect for the writing process on Charlie Kaufman’s end that makes me love it even more as is, it’s the fact that he’s written another film that was nearly as complicated as Being John Malkovich in a psychological sense. We know already that if Kaufman were to tell the story of The Orchid Thief all over again, it would probably be one of the most basic concepts and yet under Kaufman’s penmanship it almost seems to find itself breathing a new life when elements of said story end up creating a parallel together with this semi-autobiographical product that makes evident his frustrations with trying to adapt such a work, if he doesn’t know what to make of it. He’s split himself into two halves, both of whom are played by Nicolas Cage in arguably the best performance he’s ever put on the screen as both Charlie and Donald Kaufman. Donald, an obviously nonexistent brother in Charlie’s real life, represents another part of the writing process that puts pressure on the block, letting it linger. It’s a part that thinks they know how to feed into the machine of expectations of the mainstream, rejected by the artist themselves at the risk of sounding conventional – showing more clever use of meta, especially with the allusions being made at the seminar Charlie attends.
But as for Spike Jonze, what I wonder most is how he directs a film that clearly knows it won’t be as absurd as Being John Malkovich to be as unique in its own way. For we already recognize his distinctive vision from music videos, Adaptation embraces a more downbeat route that still finds its way to become bizarre in the most beautiful sense at that. The film is evidently directed and structured from the troubled mind of Charlie Kaufman, but how Jonze manages to translate such self-indulgence on the screen is still something that amazes me. The existential nature of Adaptation excels the film at its most indulgent moments, but perhaps it’s only most fitting for a writer when they have so many ideas and they don’t know how to express them the way that they do. And among many reasons I ramble as much as I do, when I write these film reviews, even to the point of repetition – I think to myself I’m not a great writer, and with a following I gained people see me as such, to the point it puts pressure on me and what I do, because I know I don’t want to disappoint those who stuck around for so long.
If the script couldn’t possibly get any more meta, there’s that moment in the third act where we have the seminar, and Kaufman doing what he’s being advised not to do. It’s here where I take a moment to think back about what exactly it is that the film industry would ever want to do to my brain. Should I keep doing everything as told, at a seminar because I know it’s something I want to be done? The way Kaufman toys with the narrative here only brings out a clever statement about the way the industry wants a story to come out for the benefits of the viewers. This is an opportunity for Kaufman to shout out, and suddenly let all of his ideas explode into one place. But somehow, it’s the fact Kaufman knows this is exactly what not to do that makes Adaptation work as cleverly as it does, because he knows that it’s an obvious route to go, and yet it’s already found its heart at being a deconstruction of what happens if Kaufman ended up obeying the studio on every turn.
I’m not sure how a pair like Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman have managed to do it, but the moment I finish Adaptation upon any viewing I think back about what it is how I can improve my own writing process. It’s evidently Charlie Kaufman at his most self-indulgent, yet the manner in which it moves because of the pressure that has been put upon him as a result of the industry ends up making something far more clever and honest. Because we have so many ideas coming into our minds and mindsets that end up getting the best of us, whether it’s our own overconfidence or the fear of what happens when you feel everything has gone wrong. Because when one has to “adapt” from another source, there’s a feeling that inevitable change might end up being placed on the self that’ll drift you away from what you think you know. It was either one of the best ideas ever or one of the worst to be conceived. Or maybe everything is stuck inside a circle the way this film is, and that’s why we’ve received such honesty.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Columbia Pictures.
Directed by Spike Jonze
Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman, from the novel The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
Produced by Jonathan Demme, Vincent Landay, Edward Saxon
Starring Nicolas Cage, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep
Release Year: 2002
Running Time: 114 minutes