"Gooey Creative Juices"
What You Need To Know:
ADAPTATION is from Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, the writer and director who made the critically acclaimed movie BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. Nicolas Cage stars as real-life writer, Charlie Kaufman, and his fictional twin brother, Donald. Nervous, shy and perpetually self-loathing, Charlie has terrible trouble adapting THE ORCHID THIEF, a real best-selling non-fiction book about a man who illegally hunts orchids in the Florida swamps. Charlie’s brother, however, has the time of his life writing a thriller for a popular screenwriting course. Charlie decides to enlist Donald in a scheme to pick the brain of the orchid book’s author, played by Meryl Streep. Their effort, however, exposes some secrets, leading to death and tragedy.
ADAPTATION goes from being a clever, funny, provocative rumination on the creative process and the life of the artist to a superficial satire of modern Hollywood’s obsession with linear storytelling. The plot in the movie’s final third part serves neither the characters nor the viewers who might decide to invest time in the story and characters. The movie also contains very strong foul language, sexual immorality, nudity, drug abuse, and a very strong humanist worldview with a very strong pro-evolution slant.
(HHH, EvEvEv, Ro, LLL, VV, SSS, NNN, A, DD, MM) Very strong humanist worldview with very strong pro-evolution elements that, nevertheless, seems to unintentionally expose the scientific stupidity of theories of evolution with humanist, Romantic notion of love; about 59 obscenities (including many “f” words), eight strong profanities and six mild profanities; thriller violence such as people chase other people with guns, two terrible car crashes, alligator chomps character, and people shot; depicted fornication, adultery and masturbation, and man sells pornography on the Internet (the sexual references are not always very strong, but there are too many of them); upper female nudity, rear nudity, partial male nudity, and major references to Internet pornography on computers; alcohol use; smoking, brief drug abuse and references to selling special drug made from flower; and, spying on people, lying, procrastination, and kidnapping.
ADAPTATION is from the writer and director, Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, who made the critically acclaimed movie BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. Like their earlier effort, this one has some good, creative ideas that are wasted on a bizarre story which ends stupidly. The point of their story gets lost in the telling.
This time out, Nicolas Cage stars as the real-life writer, Charlie Kaufman, and his fictional brother, Donald. Nervous, shy and full of hypochondria and perpetual self-loathing, Charlie is having terrible trouble adapting THE ORCHID THIEF, a real-life best-selling non-fiction book about a man who illegally hunts orchids in the Florida swamps. The book describes journalist Susan Orlean’s encounters with the man, John Laroche. It also tells the history of orchid hunting, an expensive hobby that has also been a dangerous one in years past.
As Charlie struggles with adapting the book, as well as improving his love life, his gregarious twin brother, Donald (a totally fictitious character), decides that he, too, wants to be a screenwriter. Donald, however, wants to write popular thrillers and action movies. To Charlie’s disdain, Donald decides to take a course by famous screenwriting guru, Robert McKee. When Charlie still can’t seem to get his screenplay for THE ORCHID THIEF going, he begins to think that, maybe, he should try Donald’s path instead of the quirky, artsy style he loves.
Meanwhile, the movie shows flashbacks of Susan Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, interacting with John Laroche the orchid hunter, a fascinating, mercurial character with missing front teeth. Their relationship seems to burn with sexual tension.
When Charlie can’t think of an ending for his newly revised script, he decides that he needs to ask Susan some questions in person. With his brother Donald in tow, Charlie discovers some dark secrets about Susan and Laroche, which lead to attempted murder and death.
ADAPTATION is a self-indulgent and artsy, but frequently funny and clever, rumination on human relationships, the creative process, Hollywood, journalistic ethics, obsession, brotherly love, romantic love, and Darwinistic evolution. The last third of the movie satirizes and mocks Hollywood’s obsession with action movies and thrillers by turning Charlie and Susan’s story into a strange, but pedestrian, potboiler. This point, however, gets lost, because, by that time, viewers have invested their time and effort into sympathizing with the characters. Thus, instead of focusing on developing a real ending to their story, the filmmakers have forced their characters into a superficial, self-conscious Hollywood thriller that serves neither the viewers nor the characters well, though it might earn the filmmakers plenty of kudos from jaded critics who like to see Hollywood’s linear storytelling techniques mocked by condescending, self-important artists.
Beyond that, ADAPTATION contains plenty of very strong foul language, too frequent sexual immorality and too many images of nudity. Drug abuse also becomes an important theme at the end. Finally, the movie has a very strong humanist worldview, with a very strong pro-evolution point of view. The filmmakers, however, don’t take a malicious tone toward those who might disagree with this worldview. Still, they do seem to accept a rather shallow form of Darwinism. One of our major supporters, a stuntman in the entertainment business, actually appears briefly in the movie as Charles Darwin. He even gives perhaps the best performance of all the actors.
Despite the movie’s pro-evolution stance, its satirical tone seems to unintentionally (and paradoxically) expose the scientific stupidity of theories of evolution. In reality, of course, Darwinism has given way to Neo-Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism has given way to ad hoc, Anti-Darwinist evolution theories like Stephen J. Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium.” Thus, the filmmakers of ADAPTATION might have, in effect, done a disservice to evolution theories by focusing on the terribly out-of-date Charles Darwin, whose own idiosyncratic theories about evolution, mutation, adaptation, and the fossil record have long ago been disproved, even by some of Darwin’s admirers.
The acting of Meryl Streep and especially Nicolas Cage seems highly artificial at times. Only Chris Cooper as Laroche gives a truly compelling, realistic performance, until he too is undone by the inane plot machinations at the movie’s end.
Ultimately, the only apparent, possibly redeeming value that ADAPTATION explicitly imparts is the notion that “You are what you love, not what loves you.” Donald tells Charlie these exact words at an important point near the end. The point Donald’s making here is that, even if Charlie never finds someone to truly love him, it does not really matter, so long as he truly has loved some thing or some one.
Of course, this humanist, Romantic notion of love belies what the Apostle John tells us in the Sixteenth Verse of Chapter Three in his Gospel: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Thus, what Donald, the screenwriter’s alter ego, says is not true. In fact, it may be said instead that “You are Who loves you, and you are Whom you love.”
Jesus words in John 14:23 and 15:10 also resonate here: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. . . . If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love.” As the great Protestant Reformers taught, the Laws of God force us to come to Jesus Christ, God’s Personal Throne of Grace, so that we may yet fulfill the Ultimate Law of God, which is Love. “This is my command,” Jesus concludes in John 15:17. “Love each other.”