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.
- Donald tells Charles about his lecture with Mckee he says, “ … There are differences between rules and principles.”
- Susan tells Donald when he is pretending to be Charles- “Focus on one thing and focus on that.”
- 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.