Adaptation Inception!

As the final credits rolled down the screen, the first thing that popped in my head as a initial reaction was, “what?” .  As it became clear that the adaptation of The Orchid Thief that Charlie was creating was going to be based around his experiences in writing the adaptation, I found myself intrigued. I thought it was interesting that Charlie had a sort of foil in Donald who follows Hollywood clichés as instructed through his seminars, yet Charlie wants so much to write his script on flowers, and to remain true to Orlean’s book- yet he ends up straying from that entirely as he writes based on his experience of creation. While I like that this can speak to some of the things that we have already discussed- creating something new based off the original, perhaps containing a specific meaning ,etc. on a surface level, I found myself wondering as I this all now based off actual true events? The Orchid Thief is a real book, Susan Orleans is a real person (it says in the beginning based on the book by Susan Orleans) and Charlie Kauffman is too a real screenwriter who wrote the screenplay for Adaptation. Even as the film turned to the romance between Orleans and Laroche I still wondered to myself, hmm, did this happen? This all came to a screeching halt, however, when the scenes with Charlie and Donald fleeing a murder bent Orleans and an alligator attacked Laroche came about. Now I said, okay, maybe there was no real romance at all. I felt like during these moments, the film was satirizing the structure of film clichés (as it had done with Donald) and placed scenes that appeared to be influenced by Donald’s “thriller” style as the brothers came together and Charlie asked for his advice. Because of this, I thought it was going to turn out that this film was being watched as a version of the film Charlie had written (like a film within a film as well). Perhaps because Adaptation is commentary on the process of writing an adaptation that kind of thing is not needed and the audience watching Adaptation gets the intended fallacy. Though Charlie tried so hard in the beginning of the film to remain to Orleans original text and to get away from a character conflict and change that is what seems to be purposely done at the end of the day. Charlie grows, he learns from his experiences, his brother, and in the end he finally tells Amelia what he longs to say. I found this to be most interesting. In a film that speaks of adaptation and the world of film- it seems to say that such character development cannot be avoided. I particularly found the scene where Charlie goes to the New York McKee seminar telling. He poses the question of a struggle being left unresolved, to be “more of a reflection of the real world”, but McKee yells back

          The real world? The real fucking world?
          First of all, if you write a screenplay
          without conflict or crisis, you'll bore
          your audience to tears. Secondly:
          Nothing happens in the real world? Are
          you out of your fucking mind? …

          If you can't find that stuff in life,
          then you, my friend, don't know much
          about life! And why the fuck are you
          taking up my precious two hours with your
          movie? I don't have any use for it! I
          don't have any bloody use for it!


Perhaps this says, life is conflict, no matter what you are doing. His dialogue also pokes fun at the film itself in both these lines as well as McKee’s talk of voice overs.  Mckee says

... and God help you if you use voice-

over in your work, my friends.


I will says that even though Charlie goes through development and changes the ending still leaves the audience to question “what happens next?”. Does Charlie’s screenplay make it? Is it a hit? Do he and Amelia actually get together and act on their feelings? I liked that the film managed to use “both sides of the coin” that seemed to be argued for throughout. Donald’s clichés and Charlie’s realistic take on the world.


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3 Responses to Adaptation Inception!

  1. Mike Ketive says:

    You mentioned that Donald and Charlie are foils to one another, and I find that not only is that true, but the final half hour of the movie is everything Charlie wanted to avoid in his screenplay in the first half hour. He wanted to avoid chase scenes, sex, drugs, violence, etc. and write a screenplay about “flowers”. Not only did he not write about “flowers” but he wrote about everything he initially didn’t want to write about, which I think creates an interesting character development, something that McKee mentions when he is sitting with Charlie in the bar in an ironic foreshadowing of the conclusion. Through Charlie’s personal character growth, his screenplay flourishes, as evidenced in the ending where he’s plotting out his screenplay in his head. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is not only are Charlie and Donald foils to one another, Charlie in the opening of the film serves as sort of a foil to himself at the end of the film; effectively the ultimate growth of character.

  2. Sara Tener says:

    I took the shift from a focus on fidelity discourse, in the beginning of the film, to “Hollywood cliches,” at the end, to be a commentary on film adaptation itself. I thought that we might be able to interpret it to mean that, according to the film, when adapting a source to the screen, no matter how faithfully one attempts to, one can only remain true to the text to a point. In addition, you need “put in the drama” and “wow them in the end,” as McKeen said, if you hope to please your audience, and the audience, according to Bazin and McKeen, is key. Furthermore, what is one person’s/text’s reality is another person’s fiction or a source thereof. This is somewhat related to the quote that Dana posted above, but I feel we can unpack my statement a bit more. Is it far-fetched to say that we are abound to “adapt” everything, and that, according to this film, liberties taken with a source are not only justified but necessary? Even the source writer, Susan Orlean, believed that the film was a faithful adaptation of the book “in spirit.”

  3. Marie Mosot says:

    Donald is Charlie’s foil, sure, but I’d go further and say he’s Charlie’s doppelganger, his literal and metaphorical evil twin. And as per myth, the two cannot survive together – the doppelganger must die in order for the other to flourish. (I see what you did there, Charlie Kaufman.)

    It’s interesting to note, however, that though Charlie is a real-life person, a real screenwriter with other works to his name, Donald is not – he’s entirely fictional! In this sense, what is Charlie the author of Adaptation. (not the character in it) doing when he kills Donald? Is he killing a part of his creative self (evidently, the Hollywood sell-out)? Or is he doing something else? Furthermore, the film blurs the line between fiction and reality by giving Donald screenwriting credit and dedicating the film to him. This is one way to understand Bazin’s claim that fictional characters can attain a transcendent autonomy outside their literary forms, but can it mean something more in terms of the process of adaptation?

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