Directed by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper
Rated: Rated R for language, sexuality, some drug use and violent images.
Parental Notes: This is a strange and at times violent film which younger teens will have difficulty understanding and young children will likely find too intense when they’re not utterly confused.
“Adaptation” is a film whose plot can be summed up quite neatly, but its impact, deeper meanings, and beauty defy description. As it is the creation of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, the pair who brought “Being John Malkovich” to the screen, this is hardly surprising.
Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) has been hired to adapt “The Orchid Thief,” a lovely book by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep), into a movie. The book started out as an article on orchid enthusiast John Laroche (Chris Cooper), but developed into a treatise on the nature of obsession and desire as Orlean began to look more deeply at both herself and Laroche.
Charlie is paralyzed by the beauty of the book and by his own fear that he will disappoint Orlean and sell himself out if he doesn’t adapt it perfectly. In his desperate attempts to find a way to present the film on screen, he sets in motion a sequence of events that radically changes the lives of everyone involved.
“Adaptation” centers around Charlie and his twin brother Donald (also played by Cage), who is essentially Charlie’s opposite. Both are screenwriters, but beyond that they have little in common. Where Charlie withdraws from the world in fear, Donald embraces it, drifting from one project to the next as his whimsy takes him. Charlie is terrified of what people will think and wants to stay true to his art, while Donald doesn’t particularly care about people’s opinions of him and simply wants to do what works.
It’s always a pleasure to see Cage act, rather than simply fill in the outlines of cardboard characters. As the Kaufman twins, he plays two halves of the same whole – superego and id in two bodies instead of one. Where Charlie is all quaking fear and self-loathing, Donald is sparkle and charm and flexibility under pressure. Cage lights up the screen in every shot as Donald, oblivious, brilliantly talentless, and insightful.
Jonze draws unselfconscious performances out of all the actors in the film, to the point that it becomes easy to forget that the people on the screen are just film versions of actual human beings. Cooper, Streep, and Cage all vanish into their roles, leaving behind action movies, overwrought dramas, and the rest to thoroughly become their characters. It’s hard to believe this is only Jonze’s second film, let alone that the bulk of his directorial experience is in music videos. He conducts the flow of Kaufman’s script with a masterful hand, creating with images the kind of mind-bending material that Kaufman creates with words and ideas.
Kaufman and Jonze have created a world with so many layers that sorting through them is like trying to peel an onion made out of silly putty. Prod the layers too hard for meaning and they blend into each other, blurring the lines between reality and fiction, film and real life, fear and passion, terror and creativity.
“Adaptation” is a film for people who love movies as an art form, for intellectuals who like to poke fun at themselves now and then. The final sequences of the film are a tongue-in-cheek mishmash of clich