“When you spot your flower, you can’t let anything get in your way”: Adaptation (2002)

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Adap­ta­tion is an oldie but good­ie with an excel­lent cast of char­ac­ters. Screen­writer Char­lie Kauf­man (Nico­las Cage) is sup­posed to write a movie adap­ta­tion of Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) non-fic­tion book, The Orchid Thief. The empha­sis is on ‘sup­posed to’ because he doesn’t.

We accom­pa­ny Char­lie try­ing to over­come his severe writer’s block by pur­su­ing his work with­out a plan. In the process, we wit­ness his soul-crush­ing ram­pages of self-loathing, short moments of seem­ing progress, and trag­i­cal­ly unful­filled desires. All the while, Charlie’s much more light­heart­ed twin broth­er Don­ald (Nico­las Cage in a dou­ble role) naive­ly pur­sues his own screen­play endeav­ors. Also, the audi­ence dives into the book along with Char­lie and get a glimpse into the life of orchid thief and breed­er John Laroche (Chris Coop­er). Ini­tial­ly, the film is noth­ing but bizarre; how­ev­er, grad­u­al­ly it becomes inspir­ing and holds quite a few sur­pris­es for unsus­pect­ing viewers.

Labelled a com­e­dy-dra­ma, Adap­ta­tion fea­tures some comedic ele­ments. Nev­er­the­less, it’s more trag­ic than fun­ny, so don’t watch it to get a good, care­free laugh. Do watch it though to admire the com­plex rela­tion­ship between real­i­ty and fiction.

Char­lie Kauf­man is a real per­son and screen­writer. He wrote the screen­play to this very movie and is most known for hav­ing writ­ten Being John Malkovich (1999). Also, Susan Orlean is a real jour­nal­ist and author who wrote the book about the actu­al orchid breed­er John Laroche. In that way, the movie is par­tial­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal. Also, Kauf­man real­ly did get hired to write a movie adap­ta­tion to The Orchid Thief, real­ly did strug­gle with writer’s block, and even­tu­al­ly real­ly did decide not to write about the book. Instead, he wrote about him­self fail­ing to write the book. Which result­ed … in this movie! Watch for yourself:

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