By Andrew Harwood
Originality is one of the key elements of creating a story. Careful not to rip off or steal someone else’s idea, you sit at your desk — in quarantine — rewriting a script for the fifth time because someone you sampled it to said it reminds them too much of “that film with Brad Pitt.”
Even though Hollywood filmmakers place so much emphasis on originality and uniqueness, one of the most prevalent genres in the industry today are adapted films.
Adaptations are feature films based off of previously produced material, either that of a novel, non-fiction book, short story or article. Adaptations remain one of the most faceted pieces of creative work today, given the sole challenge of adapting one creator’s work into another’s.
Among the greatest modern adaptations are “Jojo Rabbit,” “Moonlight,” Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” “Ordinary People,” “The Social Network” and, our film for the week, “Adaptation.”
Based upon the book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean, “Adaptation” was born out of the direction of Spike Jonze and writing of Charlie Kaufman. It tells the story of a fictionalized Kaufman’s difficulties in an attempt to adapt Orlean’s book for the silver screen.
Starring Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, “Adaptation” is a funny, thought-provoking look into the life behind creative work and the troubles and pleasures that arise from it.
Right off the bat, what makes “Adaptation” unlike any other adaptation — aside from the brilliant screenplay by Kaufman and direction by Jonze — is that it is an adaptation film about adapting a book to film. In other words, it informs the audience that this is a work of fiction.
Weirdly, “Adaptation” is the ultimate adaptation; it stands as a film which fictionalizes Kaufman’s experience of adapting Orlean’s book. But, at its most complicated, “Adaptation” documents the fictionalized Kaufman’s tribulations, all the while being integrated with scenes from the book.
Film theorists would argue that “Adaptation” is not an adaptation, given the fact it isn’t a direct adaptation of previous material, but rather a dramatization of Kaufman’s own troubles while trying to adapt the book.
However, one could also argue that due to its reference to material from Orlean’s book and Kaufman’s experiences, “Adaptation” isn’t simply an adaptation of Orlean’s book, but also of Kaufman’s role as a writer, or dramatic irony in its purest. And to top it off, the film even begins with Kaufman’s first film, “Being John Malkovich,” in production.
In a uniquely clever story, “Adaptation” is a film about making a film during the filming of another film, making it the quintessential adaptation.