Adaptation- Writers should always do something new.

Why does Charles Kaufmann have such difficulty adapting The Orchid Thief? One reason he’s struggling is because he writes “original” pieces of work. Another reason Kaufmann is having a difficult time is because he himself is having a hard time deciphering what adaptation actually is. He wants to stay true to the book because he feels as if he has a “responsibility to Susan” to do so. Kaufmann wants to be authentic and pure. He finds that difficult because the book un-filmable. When Charles was speaking to his brother Donald about his screenplay, Charles asked him if he thought about how they would film it. Charles is aware that if the book was simply text to screen, it would be very boring. He is trying to develop his voice as a writer while maintaining the voice of Susan Orlean. 

Through the references to Darwin and the final scene of the sunflowers blossoming, one way of defining adaptation is the process evolution. Robert McKee tells Charles, “Your characters must change, and the change must come from them” so he can have a successful book. Mckee is telling Charles to go deeper in the text. The text is simply there just as a guide. The components of adaptation are explicitly defined in three parts of the film.

  1. Donald tells Charles about his lecture with Mckee he says, “ … There are differences between rules and principles.”
  2.  Susan tells Donald when he is pretending to be Charles- “Focus on one thing and focus on that.”
  3. John Laroche speaking to Susan- “Adaptation is a profound process. Means you figure out how to thrive in the world.”

I think these parts of the film are important because these quotes illustrate how Charles is able to write his adaptation. He is no longer limiting his adaptation to the original text. He is willing to go into Susan’s personal life to extrapolate something else- something more to give the text depth- something worth seeing literally. From the last 40 minutes of the film, it is obvious that he will be focusing on the love story/drug addiction that makes orchids important, and not every single detail of the book will be filmed. He figured what he found to be important to write about. As a writer, he did something new in adapting the book. He found a different element that maintained the essence of the book, but it is still original. If adaptation is defined by those quotes listed above, Charles adapted as well.

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About Tricia Zephyr

I am a work in progress
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3 Responses to Adaptation- Writers should always do something new.

  1. Darwin Eng says:

    I found the second point that you noted interesting. We can take the actual film Adaptation or the plot of the film, and in both cases, Kaufmann does eventually come to one focus. The key word here is eventually. Much of Adaptation or the process described by Adaptation by the director and/or the character of Kaufmann (I hope that makes sense!) is not focused. As you so pointed out, it is not until the end when there is a focus–the love between Orlean and Laroche and their drug addiction. It takes the entire movie trying to find the focus, and it only exists within the last 30 minutes. So technically, Kaufmann did not make a successful adaptation.

  2. Tricia says that “Charles adapted well” if you judge his adaptation based on the three rules featured in her post. I’m not sure whether I agree or disagree – this movie really sent me for a loop – however, what if we use these rules to judge the film itself as an adaptation of how to create a film adaptation. In order words, if this film is showing the act of creating an adaptation, then technically, this film is an adaptation in itself. So to say that a film adaptation must “focus on one thing and focus on that” would only prove that this was not a successful adaptation of the writing process. Look at the opening of the film and the ending of the film – there are random scenes of totally unrelated things in the beginning (the baby being born – nice and graphic!) and a ‘death by alligator’ scene. What the heck is going on here? What does this have to do with film adaptation? I feel like this movie is telling a long, elaborate joke that I am being left out. Consider another quote pointed out by Tricia – “Adaptation is a profound process. Means your figure out how you thrive in the world.” Okay, this movie definitely represents the ‘profound process’ and after you step back from the bizarre plot points it is easier to see them as representations of the multiple steps of adaptation… but how about the second part of that quote? Is the second half of the quote, “means you figure out how to thrive in the world,” hinting that the bizarre sequence of the events in the film are there because the film thrives from its unique (I’m being nice here) presentation?

  3. You’ve picked out some great quotes and that central issue of “what is adaptation.” I’m wondering if by film’s end we’re supposed to agree with one adaptation theory over another, or whether they all are still competing (and thus we haven’t “gotten” anywhere)?

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