To what extent does ‘Adaptation.’ demonstrate Bazin’s equivalence of meaning of the forms?

In Adaptation or Cinema as Digest Bazin warns that when considering an adaptation what matters is not faithfulness to form but rather “the equivalence in meaning of the forms” (20).  Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. seems to provide a prime example of such an equivalence.  Granted, I have not read Orlean’s novel but based on the book review read by Kaufman in the film it is apparently more of a cut and dry, narratively disjointed, fleshed out article- something more in the purview of a reporter rather than a novelist.  The first half or so of the film seems to mirror this form/literary technique.  Kaufman reports on his thoughts, on his interaction with Hollywood and his brother, and these scenes are intercut with scenes taken from the novel (e.g. Orleans traveling with and interviewing Laroche).

Kaufman’s wish to bring Orlean’s text to screen, intact and mindful of her intentions, drives him mad.  Well, he’s already a bit of a mess, so it furthers him along down the path of insomnia and insanity.  As he proceeds, in starts and fits, he is constantly interrupted by himself.  Both by his own (mostly masturbatory) fantasies and his twin brother who’s recently become obsessed with becoming a Hollywood genre writer.  Leaving himself out of his script, acting as a passive translator of text to film, and an undue obsession with remaining faithful to Orlean’s novel (e.g. looking for ways to literally make orchids beautiful on screen) frustrate and defeat his efforts to write.

Kaufman is only able to achieve an equivalence of meaning after introducing himself–a writer of movies–into the story.  He comes to a sort of acceptance that he is writing a movie and that the styles/idiosyncrasies of such need to be maintained not only so that he can finish writing, but also so that he can adapt, rather than merely mirror,  the novel.  There was a line in the film that dealt with condensing an idea, or finding one thread from the novel and running with it, presumably while doing so while being mindful of the context of  film (while not being slavishly devoted to the ‘rules’ of filmmaking, such as avoiding voiceovers).  In this notion one can find an equivalence of meaning of the forms, and ultimately the point (or a point) of an adaptation- to foster the evolution of a narrative from one form to another.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in 05 Adaptation. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to To what extent does ‘Adaptation.’ demonstrate Bazin’s equivalence of meaning of the forms?

  1. Marie Mosot says:

    Adaptation as evolution – YES! I’m so glad you brought this up because I think it’s one way to resolve the question of adaptations. I’m not sure that this metaphor answers Bazin’s “equivalence in meaning of the forms” because Bazin aims, partly through this phrase, for fidelity, however broadly or narrowly defined, and evolution requires a certain degree of liberty that runs counter to fidelity. However, adaptation as an evolutionary process is based on the notion that an animal must change in such a way as to maximize its survival in a given environment. If literature is to survive in the face of the more popular cinema, in the environment of mass media and pop culture, then it must change or adapt, and this is at the heart of Bazin’s notion of cinema as digest, of film as a means to widen literature’s readership and therefore ensure its longevity. Film adaptations are just the next evolutionary step for art.

    I liked the scene in Adaptation. about bees and their flowers because it works literally and allegorically as an elaboration of adaptation and survival through cross-pollination. In the same way that a species of flower cannot survive without “making love” to a species of bee, a work of art cannot survive on its own without engaging with or being engaged by its audience and other works of art – both flower and art must break their hermetic existences in order to flourish (read also: art as inherently combinatorial). (Yes, I know that the scene can also be read as a comment on romantic relationships, but that assumes a romantic streak in the film that hadn’t been established yet – there is no escaping those pesky Hollywood cliches.)

    • Raj says:

      I read Bazin’s ‘fidelity’ to mean faithfulness to a particularly strong aspect/theme/etc. of a thing rather than to the thing itself, which doesn’t seem to run counter to the notion of adaptation. While they are different, the orchids that adapt to various insects are ultimately still orchids–the commonality/equivalence in form highlights a fidelity that isn’t readily apparent by a difference in styles.

    • Marie Mosot says:

      That’s a good point. After all, Bazin also argues for a certain degree of liberty that gives rise to the ideal, artistic pyramid. I guess the problem then is that adaptations are, to continue the evolution metaphor, often confused as as a single species rather than an overarching genus. Just as humans are related to primates, all adaptations share certain traits, but the differences between each and their unique relationship with their own genetic materials (read: source materials) must also be considered, not dismissed.

  2. I’ll take a stab and guess that the underlying “meaning of the forms” for both Orlean’s nonfiction book and Kaufman’s (fiction? nonfiction?) film would be something like “the passion of sharing knowledge.” Maybe not knowledge in the fictional Kaufman’s case, but Laroche wants to share what he knows with the world, and Orlean likewise wants to share that with her readers.

Comments are closed.