Adaptation. (2002)

Analysis of the Book

The Orchid Thief is a work of creative non-fiction by Susan Orlean, a writer for The New Yorker. The Orchid Thief  started off as an article in The New Yorker about the arrest of John Laroche, a horticulturist and orchid thief from Florida. Laroche and the state of Florida are Orlean’s main focus in this work as Orlean relays her time with Laroche. Nothing too dramatic happens within the span of the book but Orlean’s meandering and meditative narrative provides insights into her life and people’s expectations.

Analysis of the Film

Directed by Spike Jonze, Adaptation is a playful movie that experiments with realism and artistic liberty in movie. There are two stories going on, one about Charlie Kaufman, a screen writer struggling to adapt Orlean’s The Orchid Thief and then another about Orlean’s experience in Florida itself. Charlie’s difficulty writing his screenplay is seen side by side with his finished product as the movie switches back and forth between Orlean at the time of her interviewing Laroche and Kaufman in the present day trying to write a script. It is a self-reflexive movie where Kaufman pokes fun at himself and modern hackneyed Hollywood conventions in screen writing (like the voice over narration and deus ex machina he eventually caves to in his final script). There is an  interesting insight into the writing process with the voice over narration rattling off the frenzied thoughts of Charlie. Kaufman also seems to emphasize the importance of deeply engaging with source material to have a successful film adaptation of written work.

Analysis of the Adaptation

Adaptation embodies the complexities that Orlean’s delves into in her book only with a new story added, that of Charlie Kaufman. Evolution is the central theme in both the movie and the book and it is displayed on film successfully, not only in the way Charlie proposes (his montage of evolutionary stages on Earth) but in the Charlie character himself. In order for his script to work he has to mutate his usual serious, artistic style into somethingthing different so that it can successfully adapt to Hollywood cinema. Although some may claim that Adaptation strays too much from the source material, the movie had to change and evolve into something different so that it’s main message and spirit could translate over entertainment mediums. Orlean herself applauds this approach and agrees that it makes the movie a successful adaptation of her work. Like Tristram Shandy, this movie seems to wrestle with the issue of making an adaptation an artful expression of source material or a shallow Hollywood spectacle filled with overdone plot tools. Kaufman stays true to Orlean’s story and deviates from it at the end when both story lines finally converge physically with Charlie and Donald meeting Orlean herself.

Online Research

  • Blog exploring the central themes of  Adaptation.

  • A blog entry for a film class where the author explores intertextuality and hypertextuality in Adaptation.

  • John Patterson explains how Nicolas Cage’s acting choices make him suitable for the dual role of Charles and Donald Kaufman.

Critical Analysis

Does the voice-over narration in Adaptation work in terms of presenting the interior lives of the characters? Or is it merely a gimmick, as screenwriting guru Robert McKee (a character in the film) suggests?

The use of voice over narration in Adaptation manages to add something significant to the perception of the characters in this film and is not merely a gimmick as McKee suggests. Although in some instances voice over narration is just a writer taking the easy way out, in Adaptation it gave Charlie more depth and made his struggle much more real to viewers. His socially awkward, tormented, and miserable personality is amplified when his scrambled and urgent thoughts are revealed aloud. People who write or have similar struggles socially further identify with his character knowing that they share the same thoughts.


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