That Final Act…

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?

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4 Responses to That Final Act…

  1. Darwin Eng says:

    Obviously, it is impossible to tell (short of asking Kaufman and Jonze themselves) if the ending is was intentional or not. I will admit, I found it extremely anti-climactic and boring. But that just might be myself, and as you suggest in your post, me being so jaded from watching Hollywood films that can only be successful with certain kinds of endings. Personally, I feel that the film is in fact a mockery of Hollywood films. The film (as it exists in our “reality”) has the added action sequences and love story that appears only at the end. Adaptation follows the process of the creation of film within Adaptation, which is literally laid out. Why put the action at the end when it could have somehow been evenly spaced throughout Adaptation (more so if it was Jonze’s and Kaufman’s intention to create a “regular” blockbuster film).

  2. Sara Tener says:

    With respect to your final query, I believe that it is both. It admits that to “play the game” it must adhere to certain aspects of the accustomed fare, but it also succeeded in creating a very original script and film in the process. For me, it is a triumph that mocks and celebrates both sides of the coin.

    • In response to the question you posed in the last paragraph of your post, “Is the point of the film to show that adding action sequences and love stories to film adaptations is the right decision?”, I would simply ask did this improve the film Adaptation? Most viewers disliked the ending, even those who claimed to have enjoyed the first two-thirds. Personally I found the character development of Charlie interesting and thought provoking as he struggles to stay true to the book. Moreson than the plot driven action sequences that seemed to rub our noses in the cliched failures of Hollywood blockbusters. The film purposely commits all of the things that Charlie has tried to avoid as well as violating McKee’s first Commandment “God help you if you use voice overs. This inevitably leaves the viewer with a bad taste in his or her mouth distinctly showing that this is indeed the wrong decision for adaptations.

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