At the beginning of Adaptation Charlie Kaufman states to Tilda Swinton’s character that he wants “to let the movie exist rather than be artificially plot-driven.” Throughout the film Charlie struggles to detach himself from traditional Hollywood cliches in his writing and even in his own life. His attraction to Amelia is set up as a traditional love story but Charlie is never able to man up and confess his love. That is, until the end of the film. And it’s the last third of the movie that makes up in cliches what the first two thirds intentionally avoided.
One of the many questions posed by Adaptation is which is better? Character-driven, perhaps even plotless narratives? Or the audience-pleasing, plot-driven stories of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters? Kaufman has the unenviable task of adapting a highly character-driven novel, The Orchid Thief, into a film. The task is overwhelming. We see glimpses of what a strict adaptation of this novel could possibly look like. There’s a sequence at the beginning of the movie showing a montage of the evolution of man, another later on that shows bees pollinating flowers with a voiceover to describe what’s happening.
Would a movie like this be appealing to the masses? Donald Kaufman and McKee would say no. A strict adaptation of The Orchid Thief would end unresolved and with Susan Orlean’s disappointment. McKee tells Charlie to “go back, put in the drama.” We see the drama unfold in the final act of the movie.
Is the point of the film to show that adding action sequences and love stories to film adaptations is the right decision? Does it make a film better? Or is the film poking fun at that notion and showing the absurdity of the idea? Essentially, is the last third of the film self-indulgent mockery of traditional Hollywood cliches or a legitimate representation of what makes successful films successful?