Double Nicolas Cages!! otherwise known as Adaptation

1: Analysis of the Book:

The movie, “Adaptation,” is based on an article turned into a book by journalist, Susan Orlean, called, The Orchid Thief. The story in the book is about an odd, slightly criminal plant thief, John LaRoche, who steals rare orchids from a swamp/state preserve in Florida. His obsession and plan is to grow these rare plants for sale to collectors. After being caught, he brings  a court case to the State of Florida, challenging the ruling on rare plant theft. Often thought of as a tale of passion, greed, and obsession, this true narrative is also an interesting human story. One book reviewer (a blogger calling himself “Mr. Seeds,” makes the interesting point that another theme of the book is “dependency” as depicted by LaRoche, who is dependent on capturing orchids for his well-being, and Susan, who is dependent on others’ stories for her livelihood.

2: Analysis of the Film

“Adaptation,” came out in 2002 with an all-star cast of Meryl Streep in the leading role, Nicholas Cage as Charlie Kaufman, filmmaker and maker of this film, and Chris Cooper as  John LaRoche, the man whose actions inspired the movie. The cast is as wonderful as one could hope them to be. Each one embodies their role and gives an interesting and compelling performance.  In fact, Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Kaufman won the BAFTA award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film’s best moments are when the story of the Orchid Thief unfolds. This is a fascinating tale of adventure, obsession and passion that takes place in an exotic and dangerous setting (Florida Everglades). The less compelling moments involve Kaufman’s (Nicholas Cage) inner dialogue about how hopeless his life is and how insecure he feels. The final third of the movie veers away from the docu-drama tone and takes flight in a frenzy of action, tragedy and death. This departure from the feel and pathos of the earlier part of the film is both jarring and perplexing. It makes what seems like an interesting adaptation of a book into a bizarre series of nightmarish events. It is at this point that one has to ask, “What is this an Adaptation of?”  

3: Analysis of the Adaptation

Charlie Kaufman seems to like to make movies that are “self-reflexive” meaning that he makes movies that include or are actually about his process of making movies. This idea is taken to the extreme in “Adaptation” where Mr. Kaufman is actually played by an actor, Nicholas Cage, as he watches and ruminates about the making of this film and his earlier film, “Being John Malkovich.” In fact the opening scene is a piece of that film where John Malkovich is holding forth amongst the cast and crew of that film. As a film adaptation of the book, The Orchid Thief, this movie is a strange take on the book. I guess a Charlie Kaufman movie is a Charlie Kaufman movie. He seems to take material, in this case a book with a quirky story, and turn it into a quirky Charlie Kaufman film.  At times it works to give the Orchid Thief story more depth and complexity, but at other times his self-reflexive style seems to have a life of its own that has almost nothing to do with the book. While there are “no rules” for adapting a book to film, it is annoying that Charlie Kaufman seems to feel free to grab any interesting material and turn it into a movie about his own creative process. I wonder if people viewing this film had any idea of what to expect; I know I didn’t.

4: Online Research
This website is basically a fact website giving information about the movie. Some facts include “budget intake” of $32,000,000,  “The distributor” being Columbia Pictures, and when it was produced, which was 2002.

This film site gives the “Best Film Speeches & Monologues from 2002. Adaptation is in that list, and its best monologue is “Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life”, which happens to be the very opening voice-over monologue by self-loathing screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicholas Cage).

Mike Clark, who is a film reviewer for USA Today happens to like the movie with giving it a rating of 3.5 out of 4 stars, which is a good rating. The only place where the movie is a let down to him is the ending of the movie, where he basically pans the whole ending. He basically said that the ending is “irritating and indulgent”. He further goes on to say that the movie is “Too smart to ignore but a little too smugly superior to like, this could be a movie that ends up slapping its target audience in the face by shooting itself in the foot.” It’s odd for a reviewer to give a movie such a good review and end it by making the movie’s ending look bad. 

5: Critical Argument Paragraph

In Adaptation, the twins Charlie and Donald are opposites in many ways. How do they respectively represent film as art and film as (Hollywood) entertainment? And is this a crude dichotomy that the film subtly undercuts?

One of the sub-motifs of the film “Adaptation,” is the opposition of types. This is portrayed by Charlie and Donald Kaufman, twin, middle-aged men, who are both practicing the profession of screen writing. Instantly, one feels that Charlie is the authentic artist; he is a writer struggling with the difficult task of adapting a serious piece of literature to a saleable movie script.  He is serious, haunted by his personal demons, and truly sincere about his work. Donald, on the other hand, is a happy-go-lucky guy who is looking for an easy way to make a living and casually tries his hand at his brother’s life-long profession. Donald’s charm and superficial views lend themselves to easy success as a Hollywood hack. He is able to churn out successful scripts by adapting clichés to lurid stories. Donald is able to entertain audiences with his formulaic scripts while his serious brother, Charlie, struggles to stay true to his craft and ethics while writing a worthy, artistic film treatment of a book. The film “Adaptation” subtly undercuts this dichotomy by veering off its more serious attempt at a true adaptation of the book, Orchid Thief, and plunging into over-the-top sensationalism at the end. This throwing over of “art” for entertainment is one of the messages of the film.


2 thoughts on “Double Nicolas Cages!! otherwise known as Adaptation

  1. I really liked your critical analysis paragraph in that it expanded the question. Instead of addressing the duality of man shown in the twins, you take it one step further to explain how it also explores the duality of a culture, and the endless battle of art vs. entertainment.

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