thatcow

this review is about the review

*** this review may contain spoilers ***

Where to start? This movie covers so many issues. At the heart of the story, we have the lives of four people. We have Charlie Kaufman who was the writer of Being John Malkovich. Next is Donald Kaufman, Charlie's twin brother who is trying to finish his adolesence. Susan Orlean who is trying to find her own life and finally, John Laroche, an eccentric collector (currently focused on orchids).

The timeline of the movie is jumbled. Laroche is currently working as a horticulturist for the Seminole Indian tribe. He uses Seminole's to remove rare and endagered plants (mainly orchids) from the everglades. The court case that ensues is interesting enough for The New Yorker magazine to send Susan to Florida for a story. Susan is mesmerized by Laroche. He is single minded in his pursuit of the orchids. Susan's story is The Orchid Thief. The book gets optioned by a studio who hires Charlie to write the screenplay adaptation. Charlie has writer's block and for most of the movie is torn between being honest to the story and having nothing to say. Donald attends a writing seminar and spends most of the movie writing a screenplay based on simple formulas and structures. How these people interact is the heart of the movie.

Kaufman actually wrote Adaptation, so the movie is recursively autobiographical. We've seen the artist as actor before - whether it's My Favorite Year or Bowfinger. These movies take a peek inside the craft of creating entertainment. It's not new material, but Adaptation has many other themes. Each theme is shown in mostly two dimensions, sometimes more.

Duality - While Donald is writing his screenplay, he stumbles on the idea of the cop, kidnapper, and kidnapee being the same person. Of course the idea seems goofy, but here we are watching Adaptation where the main character Charlie, is also played by the same actor playing Donald. Maybe it's not so goofy. On the other side of is Meryl Streep's Orlean. She lives the life of a New Yorker, busy and seemingly artificial. But her other life is travelling through swamp land to be with her infatuation, Laroche. Which duality is more genuine - the twin brothers as one person, or Orlean's gradual realization of her own sadness.

Desire - Laroche is an obsessive collector. It could be mirrors ("Did you see me in Mirror World October 1988?"), turtles, tropical fish, or orchids. His passion is singularly focused on each item. Orlean has never felt that. But the orchids mean something different to the Seminoles than they do to Laroche and Orlean. To the Seminoles, the orchid is a wild high. A drug that makes you feel more focused. It's only through this drug that Orlean gains her sense of passion, but then her desire for the drug seems more like an addiction.

Adapatation - Charlie's tasked with adapting The Orchid Thief to the screen. His adaptation mutates as he tries to get started and fails repeatedly. Eventually, he writes himself into the screenplay. As his script adapts, he realizes that the orchid is really the symbol of biologicial adpatation.

Irony - Kaufman's script gives us both sides of irony - the modern sense of cynicism and sardonic humour, and the classic definition where the audience knows something the actors do not know. In the first half of the movie, we deal mostly with the modern definition. The last half of the movie, the audience knows that Orlean needs the orchid to sustain her addiction, but Kaufman does not know.

Honesty - Charlie has a deep sense of obligation to being honest to Orlean's story, yet he has never met her. Meanwhile, he can't be honest with himself. He can't overcome his crippling fear to save his relationships.

Love - Finally, the easiest of the themes is being loved versus loving anyone. Which one defines you? For Donald, he sees himself through the people he loves. For Charlie, he wants to see himself being loved, but can't return it.

There's probably a dozen more themes in the story. But the movie putters out of gas 2/3 of the way through. I was disappointed when the story turned to an 'action' movie. But, it is sort of like watching the original Sprite commercials with Grant Hill. The celebrity tells you to drink Sprite, but the audience knows he is getting paid to tell you this and the real message is to think on your own, but still drink Sprite. Adaptation tells you that the chase scene is coming because we're living in the script writer's world who needs the chase scene to save the rambling Orchid Thief. This multi-folded movie is best summed up in the end when Charlie tells his tape recorder that the movie should end with Charlie having a sense of hope and telling himself that.

An interesting ride, but for me, not a complete movie. I'd definitely watch it again, which means it's more intriguing than 90% of the movies I do see.

Look for the reference to the "puppet theatre of czechoslovakia" an interesing revisionist approach to Being John Malkovich.

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