Adaptation: A Journey into the Absurd… And Back

24 Jun

The Orchid Thief

This novel is an in-depth study of orchid enthusiast, and pseudo-criminal, John Laroche. Readers see this man through the eyes of New Yorker author, Susan Orleans, and are encouraged to ponder the importance of passion in life.  This is a somewhat uneventful novel; it instead encourages self-reflection and a sense of wonder.

The Film

This film explores Charlie Kaufman as he writes an adaptation for the Orleans book, The Orchid Thief. Kaufman struggles almost mercilessly as he attempts to adapt a challenging, introspective book into a screenplay. He finds himself be coming obsessed with Orleans and tracks her down resulting in a series of unfortunate events. His screenplay takes shape once he writes himself into the storyline.

The Adaptation

This is a surprising adaptation which is not only an adaptation of the novel but a mockumentary of how an adaptation is created from an original novel. It begins well, albeit oddly, with Kaufman attempting to write an adaptation while being constantly bothered by his “brother” who might simply be a multiple personality. The film pokes fun at Hollywood’s need to constantly make it appear as if something is happening when life is full of moments without major events. Yet, it borders on the absurd after Kaufman makes contact with Orleans and somehow finds himself in a violent altercation with Orleans, herself.

The Critics

Lazere was especially fond of the wonderful performances by Ncholas Cage and Chris Cooper. He highlighted the well-integrated screenplay of this movie-within-a-movie and noted that this screenplay broke Hollywood norms by accentuating voice-overs and emphasizing the anti-climactic normalcy of real life. He hailed this movie as a masterpiece.

Skradol also emphasized the importance of the “commonplace’ in her review, noting that both the movie and the movie within the movie emphasize the common while poking fun at Hollywood conventions.

Rapfogel hailed the film for exploring the idea of common life and how movies are made but was vastly disappointed that the movie chose to end in such a conclusive, decisive manner, instead of leaving anything open to the audience to ponder.

Critical Review

Most critics were drawn to this film’s tongue-in-cheek approach to film adaptations. Zalewski referred to it as “a sly and slippery meditation on the ways movies can transform complex stories into cut-and-dried clichés” while still hailing it as a success. Bean agreed and celebrated the film’s courage to create its own structure to fit its own needs. All agreed that this was an atypical movie deserving of attention. While Denby enjoyed this film’s explosive ending, Zacharek argued that this entire movie was simply a “bloated thesis” and devoid of depth. Any way you slice it, this movie broke all the roles and challenged critics and audiences alike.

Works Cited

Bean, Henry. “Self-Made Heroes.” Sight and Sound 13.3, 2003. Web. 20 June 2015.
Denby, David. Review of AdaptationThe New Yorker. December 9, 2002. Web 21 June, 2015.

Lazere, Arthur. Adaptation. The Film Journal, 2002. Web. 21 June 2015.

Orleans, Susan. The Orchid Thief. New York: Random House, 1998. Kindle Edition.

Rapfogel, Jared. HomeFeature Articles Adaptation: How to Stop Worrying and Love to Compromise. Senses of Cinema, Jan. Web. 21 June 2015.

Saxon, Edward, Vincent Landay, Jonathan Demme, Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton, Cara Seymour, Brian Cox, Judy Greer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lance Acord, Eric Zumbrunnen, Carter Burwell, Casey Storm, K K. Barrett, and Susan Orlean. Adaptation. Culver City, Calif: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, 2003.

Skradol, Natalia. Adaptation, ‘Adaptation’, and Adaptation: Zizek and the Commonplace, Film-Philosophy, vol. 8 no. 27, August 2004.

Zacherek, Stephanie. ‘Adaptation’ and the perils of adaptation.  Salon. December 16, 2002. Web. 21 June, 2015.

Zawelski, Daniel. “The “I” Cure For Writer’s Block.” Film. New York Times, 1 Dec. 2002. Web. 21 June 2015. <


2 Responses to “Adaptation: A Journey into the Absurd… And Back”

  1. jbates1017 June 25, 2015 at 2:03 am #

    I completely agree that no matter who you look at that had something to say about the movie, they all agreed that Adaptation was its own genre. Each person involved in the film made it a point to bring something to the table that not only complimented the film and the novel, but stayed true to themselves without having to settle for typical Hollywood glam. While certain aspects of Hollywood are still present, it is more of a nod to what seems more Hollywood than what is Hollywood.

  2. elenamacias15 June 25, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

    I agree that it was quite a creative way to adapt a book that, in most cases, would never have been adapted into a film. Kaufman’s idea to insert himself into the script and write about the progress of adapting a book was one that could have been heavily criticized. But because of the film’s tongue-in-cheek approach on handling the process of adaptations as well as Kaufman satirizing an abundance of Hollywood film tropes really makes it stand out as an original form. While the film may not be for everyone, it definitely established its own sense of direction and structure for film and scriptwriting.

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