Adaptation.  (2002)

This movie has been on my watchlist for a very long time. While I was discussing "Synecdoche, NY" (one of my all-time favorite movies), someone suggested "Adaptation", since both were written by Charlie Kaufman. For whatever reason, I kept putting it off, other things kept jumping to the top of the list, and I never got around to it. I regret that decision, because I was seriously missing out.

"Synecdoche NY" is about a playwright trying to write his life story. As he becomes more introspective, the play gets deeper; as more people enter his life, those characters enter the play; as he delves deeper into the characters, it impacts his real life relationships, which in turn impacts the characters, until everything is a reflection of a reflection. "Adaptation" is a clear precursor to that, as real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman puts his own struggles of writing a screenplay into the screenplay as he's writing it. It's a crazy concept: how can you write about what you're going to write about before you've written about it but then write about how you don't know what to write about? It creates a sort of feedback loop, something akin to time travel as we see an element of the movie later be described by Kaufman during the writing process, then flipping back and forth between the present, the past, the further past, then the future of that further past (which is still the past when compared to the present). It's disorienting but still somehow manages to maintain some linear momentum.

I love movies about the process of making movies. Lots of us (myself included) have had the dream of writing a movie, but there is the simple question of "where do I start?" that kills many of us at square one. In real life, Kaufman is hired as a screenwriter, given the task of adapting the book "The Orchid Thief" into a movie. The problem is, "The Orchid Thief" a traditional narrative that is easily turned into a movie. Kaufman starts off wanting to stay true to the source, to not go "Hollywood" with it; however, after struggling repeatedly to create a story, he decides to morph the entire thing into a story about him trying to write an unwriteable screenplay. He doesn't know where to start, so he talks about not knowing where to start. He doesn't know what to do with the characters, so he writes about not knowing what to do with the characters.

What I loved most about both "Adaptation" and "Synecdoche, NY" is the seemingly simple concept of writing your own life story. Much like my question about writing a screenplay, you're faced with asking yourself "where do I start?"  All of my past relationships have left an impact on me, positive or negative. The way an old relationship ended would consciously or subconsciously influence how I approached my next one. Maybe I wouldn't have noticed that my behavior changed until I looked back at myself, which would then change the way my present self writes. Charlie Kaufman's cinematic doppelgangers struggle in the same way, trying to keep a sense of impartial observer, but always slipping back into their personal biases.

"Adaptation" ends with something like an inside joke, maybe a wink-and-nod reference to mainstream filmmaking while holding onto indie cred. While it didn't fill me with as much existential dread as "Synecdoche, NY", it still left an impact on me.

 

[Celluloid Hero] gives "Adaptation." a 9 out of 10.

 

 

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