1. The Orchid Thief, written by Susan Orlean, explores the life story of a man named John Laroche, as well as Orlean’s own personal thoughts and experiences while investigating his life. Laroche is a man of many trades and interests, and as the story progresses, these interests become the story’s foundation. As the title suggests, Orchids are involved, but Laroche’s perspective on evolution and life in general are also themes within the story.
2. Adaptation, directed by Spike Jonze, is a film adaptation of Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. Rather than revolve around John Laroche’s life and Susan Orlean’s experiences with her investigation, Adaptation focuses on the difficulties faced by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in adapting this story to film. Although events from The Orchid Thief are still present throughout, the themes mainly revolve around Kaufman’s experiences rather than Laroche/Orlean’s perspective. Not only are struggles of adaptation explored, but struggles between “high art” and “low art” in the film-making process are also detailed through the inclusion of Donald, Kaufman’s fictional twin. In this way, the film is more about filmmaking than it is a story about Laroche.
3. A struggle in adapting The Orchid Thief to film is that it lacks the narrative structure necessary for most “ideal” films: although it explores a character (Laroche), this exploration is not designed for dramatic purposes, but merely to inform – the interest in the book comes from Laroche himself, rather than how his life-story unfolds. Accordingly, Adaptation does not try to emulate the narrative within The Orchid Thief; instead, it uses the premise of the book and the request to have it adapted to film as a foundation for exploring another character than Laroche, Charlie Kaufman, the film’s screenwriter. In this way, the film emulates The Orchid Thief‘s creative non-fiction style (it examines the life experiences of a person), all while moving its focus towards the story writing process for film.
This forum discussion on the film Adaptation involves the effectiveness of the third act of the film – was it smart or was it stupid? This is what the posters debate. Some argue that the Hollywood style of the ending wasn’t “clear” enough – it wasn’t clear enough to the viewers that Donald had taken over the script and so he was transforming the movie at the end. They argue that the original script idea to include a swamp monster rather than an alligator to kill off the evil-turned Laroche would be more effective; whereas, others argue that such an ending would be too obvious, and they claim that although the ending isn’t as satisfying as it possibly could be, it was still effective nonetheless. This discussion is important for understanding the film, because it gives readers insight into how the ending was originally intended (the inclusion of a swamp monster), but also demonstrates how a “simple,” Hollywood style ending can actually be more confusing than one might expect. On another, less “serious”, but equally interesting note, one of the posters points out how Donald’s script, The 3, was actually turned into a film, which is also an adaptation of another story.
“Great Characters: Charlie and Donald Kaufman”
Scott Myers examines what Donald Kaufman brings to the film adaptation of The Orchid Thief, as well as how his character supplements Charlie Kaufman.
“Questioning the Story”
This article combines information and quotes from various interviews and reveals the “truth” behind the characters within Adaptation; mainly, the relationship between Susan Orlean and Laroche is explained.
5. 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?
Throughout Adaptation, voice-over narration is used to detail the internal struggles of certain characters; although some may argue that this narration is gimmicky and hazardous to the film, it actually manages to enhance the audience’s relationship to the characters, all while mocking the “conventions” established by screenwriter Robert McKee (also a character within the film). The voice-over narration within Adaptation helps the audience identify with the characters more closely: for example, in the opening scene, where Charlie is eating dinner with a woman, he is sweating profusely, while an internal monologue plays in the background, detailing his anxieties. Without the voice-over narration, the audience will not completely understand why Charlie is sweating so nervously (at least at this beginning moment) – the narration helps the audience understand Charlie’s character more quickly but also more personally as well. This narration also adds comedic effect to his character, as his thoughts come out in an endless and rapid non-coherent stream. However, the greater function of the voice-over narration—what takes it beyond gimmickry, more so than the character/audience relationship—is its mocking of the screenwriting conventions set by screenwriter Robert McKee later on in the film. By using McKee’s conventions (in the end of the film), while simultaneously going against these conventions, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman asserts that there is no “right” way to write a film. For these reasons, the voice-over narration within Adaptation is more than a simple gimmick – it forces us to question the validity of screenwriting conventions, as well as consider whether or not there is a “correct” way to make a film adaptation of a novel.