Adaptation (2002)

1. Analysis of the Book. The Orchid Thief was written in 1998 by Susan Orlean. She uses a style of creative non-fiction to create a novel which relates the story of John Laroche in South Florida. Laroche is a poacher on the illegal hunt for a specific type of wild orchid. The book is based on an article she originally wrote for The New Yorker in 1995.

2. Analysis of the Film. The film Adaptation was released in 2002. It is loosely based upon the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. First, it attempts to provide a film adaptation of the book, and, like the book, centers around the theme of adapting to adversity and change through mutation. Additionally, the film is, like Tristram Shandy, a film about making a film about a book. In both cases, the film is being made about a book that can’t really be made into a film.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation. The film is really only a partial adaptation of the book, The Orchid Thief. The title of the film alludes to its dual meaning of adapting a film from a book, and of natural selection (adaptation). The story centers around the theme of adapting to adversity and change (both in terms of overcoming writers block [Charlie] and overcoming life’s problems). Charles Darwin’s character is cameo’d a number of times in the film to allude to, and define, the process of adaptation (how we all evolved from a single cell organism, etc.). Spike Jonze alludes to it in several other scenes as well (i.e. the snippets of nature scenes, the primordial background Charlie attempts to insert into his screenplay). Furthermore, the film, in carefully citing the book, uses Laroche as a living example of Adaptation: He survives a car accident which kills his mother, uncle, and loses his teeth in the process; He adapts to the adversity – losing his wife to divorce; he adapts to the situation in which his home and business are destroyed by hurricane; he changes interests periodically to adapt to different emotional changes. In the end, he is a completely different person than in the beginning. The entire film is an allegory for adaptation or natural selection.

4. Online Research of the Film. The three online sources I found in relation to Adaptation include:  This website provides an interview with Meryl Streep who plays Susan in the film. The interview offers some of her personal insights into the film. Additionally, it provides some details not otherwise available. A critical analysis of the movie versus the book reporter talks about his anxiety is relation to Charlie Kaufman

5. Critical Analysis.

At one point, Charlie tells his brother “there is no such thing as the answer.” How else does the film express this kind of postmodern relativism? And how do the characters strive against it, in an attempt to arrive at some kind of certainty?

Relativism, as denoted by Charlie’s statement to his brother, “there is no such thing as the answer,” finds expression throughout the film. The characters seem to strive against it, in an attempt to arrive at some kind of certainty. Three notable examples of this can be found as follows: 

1. Jough Dempsey pens in his review (As mentioned in the lecture) that “McKee writes that all screenwriters write in a genre, and that they must write in their genre and master it. This is the antithesis of Charlie’s postmodern ideals. Charlie believes that each film is unique, that there is no way to write a good film in a formula.” Charlie struggles with writers block throughout the film for this reason. It is the driving force throughout the film as Charlie searches restlessly to find a way to write the screenplay. In his attempt to find some kind of answer, some kind of solution, to his agonizing attempt at writing the screen play, the entire film plays out.

2. Even Charlie and his brother struggle at two different alternative answers in the types of films they produce. Charlie’s attempt is a kind of High art, and his brother’s is an expression of Low art. They are a metaphor for an argument that has continued throughout the history of any kind of art, and has no real final answer. Rather than one definitive answer, its continuing debate creates a means by which a myriad number of works is created. It is all relative with  no definitive answer. Only two relatives that provide many different solutions over time.

3. Laroche is another example of this struggle. He constantly switches projects looking for an answer, only to find nothing, but he keeps searching. It is a sub-theme of the film. It is an exercise in struggle against relativism.



1 Comment

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One response to “Adaptation

  1. Good analysis. Two of your online research links were bad. They also seemed too review-ish. Have you tried finding academic articles using the UMD library web page? Your critical analysis argument paragraph convincingly shows how the film is relativistic. 9/10. JB.

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