Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Adaptation (2002)

Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper

This unique film baffled and captivated me. Charlie Kaufman (who wrote the script, and whose other work includes Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and the current Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) once again brings to play the bizarre storylines, strange sense of humor, and somewhat overblown phychoanalysis that have characterized his previous films. Spike Jonze again steps up to the plate to provide the perfect complement with his directorial style.

This time, Kaufman has created a self-referential quagmire; a film within a film in which Kauman himself is the main character (played by Nicolas Cage). During the filming of Being John Malkovich (which allows for lots of on-set cameos), the neurotic Kaufman is struggling with his next project, an adaptation of the book “The Orchid Thief.” The narration shifts between Kaufman’s ever-growing psychosis as he tries to write an impossible script, his overtaxed relationship with his brother (also played by Cage), and the background and ongoing story of the author (Meryl Streep) and star (Chris Cooper) of the book.

The progression of the film brings more and more layers to the storylines. In the guise of his brother, Kaufman has produced both the perfect opposition to his own character and the embodiment of his neuroses; his brother is the stereotype of a confident and easy-going writer in process of fashioning a painfully mainstream screenplay that is ultimately more successful than Kaufman’s own. Meanwhile, Meryl Streep’s character gets weirder and weirder. She has her own obsessions with the star of her book, a ragged, trashy outback botanist. When the two storylines do finally come together, that’s when things get real fucked up.

Just as when I watched Being John Malkovich, this film took some serious post-watching dissection for me. Ultimately Adaptation is about obsession, neurosis, and things hidden beneath the surface. The text and sub-text of the film is so rich and varied that it’s a little overwhelming. Certainly it’s weighed down by its own baggage much more so than Malkovich. But it’s not meant to be a simple film. It confuses as it delights, and if you walk away with a few unanswered questions about the storyline that’s only natural.

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