Should Adaptation be renamed Disappointments?

In Adaptation, Charlie Kaufman tells McKee that the story is about disappointment.  He is describing the story of The Orchid Theif but in reality he is describing the story of Adaptation. Charlie, described by himself as a fat, balding loser who has lived his whole life paralyzed, wants to write a screenplay without conflict that is true to the book he is adapting. McKee, of course tells him, “that’s not a movie.” And so a movie that for two thirds of its length has focused on character development without concerning itself with action sequences ends with a botonist and a staff writer for the New Yorker attempting to murder identical twins in a Florida swamp including a car crash (an alligator attack thrown in for good measure). Susan Orlean does not find renewed love or the passion for something she was seeking, Donald’s fleeting success as a thriller writer is destroyed, and Charlie’s attempt to write an adaptation of book that is true to the original fails and resorts to the typical Hollywood cliches he so desperately wants to aviod. Even his attempt at learning from his dead brother’s example and taking a chance at love is met with disappointment when Amelia tells him she is with somebody.

So disappointment is the univeral theme shared by all of the characters in the story and the movie itself? Is this metaphor for adaptation true? Is it really impossible to write a movie without conflicts and, voice overs, and action sequences that doesn’t bore the viewer to tears? Certainly, like S usan Orlean, there are many writers who would like to murder the screen writers who adapt their works but are disappointed just as Orleans is in her attempt. Until the plot forces its narrative driven “wow of an ending” as McKee calls it, the movie was successfully generating interest in developing sympathetic characters. Charlie’s frustration with deadlines, his inability to conquer his personal demons, Orleans becoming disillusioned with her subject and Laroche’s philosophical introspection succumbing to the pursuit of internet pornography dollars had held my interest and provoked thought. So why exactly did Jonze decide to disappoint with a typical Hollywood ending that was contrary to the nature of the rest of the film? Is he also throwing in the towel like Charlie Kaufman and admitting that all films adapted from literature disappoint?



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4 Responses to Should Adaptation be renamed Disappointments?

  1. Marie Mosot says:

    I don’t think adaptations are inherently disappointing. Adaptations as Disappointments assume a failure to meet certain expectations, but there is no clear consensus regarding the expectations imposed on adaptations. Expectations are incumbent on genres – we expect westerns to feature cowboys and horses and prairies; we expect comedies to make us laugh; we expect thrillers to have plot twists – but adaptations are not, strictly speaking, a genre in the same way that film noir is not a genre (this is probably a bad example because there is still no clear consensus on how to classify film noir) – it is a style, a method, a worldview rather than a world unto itself. Adaptations encompass numerous genres and therefore numerous expectations and subsequent disappointments. I think adaptations are disappointments insofar as we continue to impose on them limits and criteria that it has evolved past. I think Adaptation‘s Hollywood ending is a disappointment insofar as we invested in Charlie’s promise for a “true” adaptation. That is, I think all adaptations are doomed to disappoint insofar as we think of them as “adaptations.” Adaptation becomes something else when it abandons the model of fidelity and becomes its own ouroboros.

    Read also: my comments under Amelia’s post, “So happy together…”

  2. Sara Tener says:

    Please, read the original New Yorker article on Susan Orlean’s website. I agree with Amelia’s post here.

  3. When I saw the title of Jeff’s post, I immediately wanted to read what he had to say! I felt like I was lost when watching this film because I couldn’t grasp or understand the overall message. The entire film was so bizarre, I kept wondering why adaptation was being portrayed in such a negative light. Is the overall idea the reoccurring notion that film adaptation is never perfect? Or that film adaptation is a difficult task that always leaves someone disappointed – whether that someone be the screenwriter, the director, the author of the literature, the audience, the critic, etc.? I kept thinking that if there weren’t big name actors and actresses starring in this film, it would have flopped and never been given the time of day to even make a statement on adaptation.

  4. On “disappointment is the univeral theme”–I’d agree with Marie that disappointment depends on expectations, but I’d also add that this movie is also about the Darwin-kind of adaptation–the even bigger scheme of things from dinosaurs to birth. Maybe the film has a pessimism not only about it’s protagonists, but also the whole universe?

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