I want to take a moment after all that Tolkien-ing to point out another film that you should by all means rush out and see. It’s Donald and Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, a screwy, ambitious post-modern comedy based loosely on Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief.
The film is directed by Spike Jonze and stars Nicolas Cage as twin scriptwriters Donald and Charlie Kaufman. Charlie Kaufman, who wrote the screenplay for the goofy Being John Malkovich, apparently invented his twin brother Donald for the script. However, Donald is credited as a co-writer, and should the film receive any awards for its’ writing (as it clearly should), Donald will be a recipient of record.
The film is about the process of writing and about genre expectations for Hollywood films. It also carries genuine emotional weight, anchored by the two most visceral screen renderings of automobile accidents that I’ve ever seen (or, in this case, not seen, as in one case I involuntarily threw my hands over my face in fear as the accident unfolded).
Several days after having seen the film, the imagery of the accidents haunts me, a residue that takes me by surprise. The film is a densely-constructed pomo mannerist flick, something akin to the verbal layer cakes Tom Stoppard reliably thrills and exhilarates me with. However, Stoppard’s mind-bending minuets and fugues of ideas and language are very, very verbal. Adaptation presents as densely allusive a field, but it does so cinematically. As a viewer it’s not always readily apparent how a given scene is a requisite reflection of another at an earlier point in the film’s narrative.
Nicolas Cage, as the twins, one garrulous and apparently “oblivious”, one inward directed and paralyzed by self-doubt, is also hilarious as the schlub who can’t act on his internal narratives and ultimately emotionally effective in the role. The screenplay (which his characters are depicted writing) directly attacks the idea of providing emotional closure for the characters on screen characterizing the technique as “fake” and “Hollywood,” yet Cage’s performance remains touching.
I referred earlier in my last essay on The Lord of The Rings to Pulp Fiction. The excitement that film generated was due in part to Tarantino’s amazing use of symbology and allusion in the role of structuring devices. These devices frequently escaped notice in the headlong rush of the story. Yet they flowered in memory to create the powerful sense of depth that the film offered as one of its’ unique accomplishments.
Adaptation offers a similar sense of unfolding depth when regarded via memory. It’s also hilarious; in the theater I had to laugh into my arm throughout the film in order to not disrupt other filmgoers’ experiences of the movie. When I emerged, my stomach muscles hurt.
If you have ever sat in front of a keyboard and done battle with your inner distractors insisting that rather than write you should get a cup of coffee or that what you had written was unjustifiably awful, you owe it to yourself, and possibly to your friends and family, to go see Adaptation.
Do it now, while the lines are long for The Two Towers.