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Adapt This!

12.4.02. Diary Dearest--

Went to see Adaptation. Told Roller I'd review it for the next issue; I don't want to psych myself out too early, but I'm already regretting this one. Somewhere, Charlie Kaufman is sighing over a pile of reviews that, if piles had heads, would be scratching itself in befuddlement.

Adaptation's premise--or gimmick, depending--is pretty widely known by now: Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovitch, Human Nature, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) signs on to adapt Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. It's a book largely about flowers; it's a book that is not adaptable to the screen. So when Kaufman can't write The Orchid Thief, he writes about himself not writing The Orchid Thief. Nicholas Cage plays him and his twin brother, Donald.

It was no fun at all yet still exhilarating to watch. I can't stop thinking about it but I couldn't say exactly what I'm thinking about. I needed a cinematic laxative to clear out all that meta, so I saw Jackass again at a second-run theater. Ahhhh, poop-diving. Movie of the year.

Kaufman has fashioned himself, like it or not, into a prime influence on budding Hollywood-bound writers for years to come.

I've gotta be sharp about this movie, but I can't make up my mind: Is he an iconoclastic genius or juvenile hack with a knack for novelty? And who am I to make that judgment? He's done what I and any other would-be writer secretly wants but never, ever would dare: put himself and his measly brain-fart of a struggle directly into the spotlight. I quiver with the excitement and terror of recognition. But I can't think critically about it; when I tried, my review came out boring and evasive.

It's certainly not a flattering self-portrait: Cage mopes in a shlubby face tortured by pathetic self-pity and artistic constipation, day-dreams down dead-ends,

Instead, I played Super Smash Brothers a lot...

and masturbates copiously.

until my thumbs were calloused.

And in this way, Kaufman jerks his narrative energy in either direction--on Orlean's encounter with a passionate orchid collector, and on himself. The two do meet, in a dizzying cyclone of self-indulgence that is as technically impressive as it is unabashedly manipulative and cheezy; you can't condemn him for it because he's condemned himself.

He just has to be so goddamn smug about it.

The script recognizes this when he refers to himself as an uroboros, a snake locked in an iconic ring of self-consumption. Perhaps a more proper image is Charlie Kaufman masturbating to his own image in the mirror.

Ok, that was gross. They'll never let me put that in. It's true, though; the movie is perversely watchable, yet no one--not even the writers who will identify with his deadlock--can sit there without squirming uncomfortably because Charlie Kaufman is a living joke and we, the audience, are the punchline.

The final act threatens to resolve Kaufman's meta-crisis, via cliched Hollywood shlock, into something that resembles conventional narrative form; by doing so, Adaptation makes almost every movie you've ever seen feel cheap, even while it somehow champions the transformative power of story.

If you think about any of this too hard, of course, it all turns to bullshit. E-mail Tom. Tell him--"this movie is unreviewable. Give Krentcil a column about Gangs of New York fashion, instead.

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