Have you ever held a mirror up, faced it towards another mirror, and created an endless line of reflection? Then you know that if you do it just so, you can get yourself in there, and see your own reflection stretch infinitely. That's what watching Adaptation is like. It is a reflection of a reflection; it is art imitating life imitating art.
Adaptation is based on the real-life best-selling nonfiction, The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean. The film is directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, who previously collaborated on Being John Malkovich. That last part is important because, if you've seen Being John Malkovich, you'll know that no other movie, in the past few years, has been so un-movie like.
The Orchid Thief is the story of John Laroche (portrayed in the film by Chris Cooper), whom Orlean first interviewed for an article in The New Yorker. Laroche is a Florida man who poaches endangered orchids and other flowers from the Florida wetlands. He does this by utilizing Seminole Indians, who, Laroche claims, cannot be prosecuted, as the wetlands are also considered sacred Seminole grounds.
Adaptation is about Charlie Kaufman (well-played by Nicholas Cage, who also plays Charlie's twin-brother, Donald) and his struggle with adapting the book The Orchid Thief into a movie. Charlie is intelligent and witty, but he's also self-deprecating and incapable of anything other than the internalizing of his thoughts, feelings or emotions. He keeps everything inside. He is, in every way, a writer.
Donald Kaufman, Charlie's twin, is the antithesis of Charlie. In no time, he decides to follow in his brother's footsteps, become a screenwriter, and even writes and finishes his screenplay before Charlie has really begun. Donald doesn't care about art or beauty or passion. He's not a bad guy; he just wants to write a screenplay that will make him the big bucks. He lives externally. He is, in every way, Hollywood.
As the deadline for first draft draws closer and closer, Charlie seems to have less and less actually written, and even begins to obsess over and shadow Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). Soon, the movie propels the characters, and the audience, through a series of bizarre encounters to the inevitable end-- sort of.
The movie is being written as you watch it and it's happening as you experience it. What you take from it is what have invested; if you're only going for The Orchid Thief, you'll be highly perplexed as to what has happened to that story, although parts of it are on display. If you go in knowing that most everyone in the movie is a real person, some even played by themselves, you'll find your head spinning, as reality ebbs and flows with fantasy. And if you simply want to see a movie, then you should enjoy yourself.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
5 out of 5 Adaptation is the most unique movie in years, at least since, well, Being John Malkovich. It will leave you wondering, discussing and thinking, quite a hat trick.
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