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In ADAPTATION, the audience views sequences from alternating storylines, one from the present and one 3-years past, until both converge at the film's conclusion.
In the "past", New York journalist Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) is researching a story, eventually to become the book "The Orchid Thief", about John Laroche (Chris Cooper), whose passion is collecting endangered species of orchids to serve as nursery stock. Actually, he poaches them from protected nature preserves in the south Florida swamps. But, since he has Native Americans indigenous to the region doing the picking, his operation is legally untouchable under an arcane interpretation of the law.
In the "present", Nicolas Cage plays the dual roles of Charlie Kaufman and his identical twin Donald. Charlie is the accomplished screenwriter adapting "The Orchid Thief" to the Silver Screen. Donald also wants to be a screenwriter, and is in the process of authoring his first script. Charlie is handicapped by a severe lack of self esteem, which is exacerbated by his inability to find the muse for his current assignment as well a his failure to establish a relationship with a woman. It doesn't help that he shares a roof with Donald, his complete opposite. Donald is self-assured, successful with the ladies, and positively gushing with creative juices as he writes his initial screenplay.
Without the use of any special make-up tricks, each of the Kaufman twins is instantly recognizable by the viewer. Cage manages this differentiation with an acting performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. Charlie's gloom is consistently marked by the downturned corners of his mouth and a general hangdog look. He's Major Downer personified. On the other hand, Donald's optimistic ebullience is signaled by the upturned corners of his mouth and the twinkle in his eyes. Obviously there's more to it than this - you have to see it.
Cooper is wonderful as the Southern cracker stereotype - ball-capped, toothless, long-haired and street smart - whose life has been a sequential series of passionate obsessions. Streep is (initially) enigmatic as Orlean, whose sterile marriage and professional life has her desperately seeking passion of any sort. At the film's conclusion, when all four personalities collide in the Florida swamps, passion erupts to heights hitherto undreamed of by the characters or the audience.
ADAPTATION is undeniably clever, since its perspective comes from the screenwriter (Charlie) whose painfully evolving screenplay becomes the movie you're watching. I liked that. However, the two storylines seemed excessively contrived and joined to make a point. And what is the point? According to Sony Pictures, the film's theme is the passion that each of us longs for in life. Or perhaps it's indicated by something Donald says late in the movie, "You are what you love, not what loves you." To me, these are such obvious attributes of life and living as to comprise an unnecessary dedication of two hours of run time.
I walked out of the theater admiring this film, especially Cage's performance(s), more than being swept away by it. A film about discovering passion left me curiously unswept.
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on 5 January 2007
From the reviews posted here, it would seem there is no middle ground reaction to this film. Like marmite you either love it or hate it. I loved it- it is one of my favourite films of all time, and one that I could watch again and again.

It is off beat, quirky, breaks all the rules of storytelling in film, and yet has so many layers it challenges the viewer to keep up.

If you favour off beat non-mainstream film and enjoyed 'Being John Machovich, Im sure you to will find it an awe inspiring experience. If you are more into mainstream hollywood blockbusters, I would probably steer clear.
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on 9 August 2003
"Adaptation" is an overwhelmingly brilliant and ingenious film that forces you to think and pay attention to every little detail in order to get the joke. This is not one of those movies where you can just sit down and enjoy, this is one that you really have to focus on and be prepared to be caught off guard. From the same people who brought you "Being John Malkovitch" comes this stunningly amazing and original film that forces you to use your brain.
The movie is about Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter who has agreed to adapt the book "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean into a screenplay. He wants to make a movie that is true to itself and that isn't filled with sex, drugs, car chases, murder, and so on. However, he is having a lot of trouble trying to make it work for a screenplay and is experiencing some serious writer's block. It eventually gets to the point where the script he is writing is no longer about the book "The Orchid Thief," but is now about him trying to adapt the book into a movie and what has transpired to get himself there. That is ONLY a fraction of the movie. The rest I will not divulge because there are a lot of subtle surprises and twists.
I was in absolute awe when the ending credits started to roll. I wanted to applaud, I wanted to yell, and I wanted to shout. My mouth was on the floor by the time it was all said and done, and it stayed in my head for the rest of the night. This is a superb movie that toyed with all of us from start to finish. And what was great was that half of the audience did not like it because they didn't "get it." For once, I "got it" and nobody else in that theatre did. It's usually the opposite with me, which was why I was so amazed. The subtleness and the cleverness that prevailed in this film was really a sight to see.
Everything was there. The film was amazingly acted out. Nicholas Cage is triumphant as he plays both Charles and Donald Kaufman. He does such a great job that you forget it's the same actor. Meryl Streep is triumphant as Susan Orlean. And who can forget the wonderful Chris Cooper who played John Laroche; the orchid collector with no front teeth. He's a fabulous actor and this, and in my opinion this is one of his best roles ever. The film was so cleverly written and directed. I could go on and on, but it wouldn't mean much if I tell you it all. Better to see it in person.
"Adaptation" is a wildly creative and original film that really reminds us why we go see movies in the first place. It also reminds us that good movies are still being made. This is one not everyone is going to like, and it is absolutely crucial that you pay attention to every little detail you encounter when watching it. The jokes and humor are there, but you must uncover them in their subtleness. This is a spectacular film on every front. Truly amazing.
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on 11 August 2015
I read the book "The Orchid Thief" first, then watched this film immediately afterwards. Knowing the book definitely helped. It's about the difficulty experienced by the screenplay writer in adapting the book (which has no real story as such; it's more about the obsessional nature of orchid lovers and the history/quirks of orchid collectors/lovers) into a film. In the end he settles for going against his desire to make a pure film about flowers which is true to the book, and turns it into a Hollywood style movie. Drugs, love, guns and murder are brought into play, none of which feature in the book. A social comment maybe, an insight into the nature of film making /screenplay adaptation. I enjoyed it but I can understand why those who had not read the book might have struggled to make sense of it.
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on 5 February 2006
Not everyone will like Adaptation. There is hardly a story line, many things don't make sense, and apart from the ending there is little action. This is a film that you need to focus on from start to finish. But if you take the trouble, you will find reward - this is one of the most intelligent and extraordinary films ever made.
For me, Adaptation is Kaufman's best film, even ahead of Eternal Sunshine. Though Sunshine is easier to follow and touches the heart as well as the mind, Adaptation is the true masterpiece. It is perhaps like the drawings of MC Escher (the impossible figures) or the music of Rachmaninov (2nd piano concert). Perhaps the works of these artists do not strike you as beautiful at first glance, but it leaves you with amazement - how did they do it? For Kaufman to come up with this idea, and then create a story that actually works - true genius. With most films, you may think "I'd be able to write that if I'd have the time". Only Kaufman could write this film - for us mortals it's even hard to explain what the film is about. Here's my attempt ...
Adaptation is about a screenwriter (Charlie Kaufman - the real writer), who is experiencing a writers block. He is trying to adapt a book, but keeps getting stuck, and starts over again. Every time he has an idea how to make the story work, the film suddenly moves in that direction. Whenever people give him advise, he follows this advise and the film changes again.
So the 1st story in the film is about Kaufman writing a screenplay, and the 2nd story is the story that he is writing - about a female journalist who writes a story about orchids, and gets to know an eccentric orchid expert. Anything that happens to Kaufman in the 1st story has an effect on the way the 2nd story is told. So for example, when Kaufman is told in the end that the films needs more action, suddenly the orchid journalist's story changes, and starts involving kidnappings, shootings and deaths.
The comedy in the film is provided by Kaufman's simple-minded twin brother, who, encouraged by Kaufman's earlier success, writesa cliche thriller screenplay, and this becomes an instant success. Brother Donald writes his story in a few days, while Charlie is trying over and over again to find the right angle to adapting the book.
This film is different from any other. It will not give you a relaxing evening, and if that's what you're looking for in a film don't bother with Adaptation. But if the above description doesn't put you off, buy this film and watch it a couple of times - you will find it gets better and better.
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on 25 May 2013
This film is such a breath of fresh air! It breaks most of the rules and comes out on top. Of course, this means that it's not going to be to everyone's taste. Adaptation has a wonderfully dreamy screenplay (within a screenplay) and Nicolas Cage is perfectly cast in not one but two roles, often I suspect mirroring the life of Kaufman. What is 'reality' after all? Thoroughly enjoyed this film.
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on 3 February 2005
Adaptation is a movie adapted from a book about adapting a movie from a book. It stars Nicholas Cage as both Charlie Kaufman and his fictitious brother Donald, and was written by Charlie and Donald, despite the latter not existing. Confused yet?
Adaptation, like Jonze and Kaufman's first movie Being John Malkovich, is a movie which deliberately misleads and confuses the viewer in order to dazzle them. Nicholas Cage is compelling as real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, a "fat-arse" self-depreciating loser who's writing a screenplay to the book The Orchid Thief. Meryl Streep is the author of The Orchid Thief, about John Laroche (Chris Cooper)'s love of the Orchid. The two's strange relationship becomes an important part of the film. Distracted by his brother Donald (also Cage) and his failing love life, it suggests the difficulty of adapting books to scripts. At times, it can be hilarious (Donald provides good comic relief with his awful script, which is then notched up by a production company), and at times deeply sad and moving, in its portrayal of depressed, obsessive insomniac Charlie, suffering from writer's block.
The performances are superb, with Streep and Cage outstanding, deserving the Academy Awards they're nominated for (see right). Being a movie about constructing a screenplay, the script is naturally funny, clever and gorgeously dark. Its emotional quality is something you wouldn't find in conventional comedies.
It is, however, extremely surreal and downright weird. Some may find it too baffling to be enjoyable. But this is what makes Adaptation demand a second viewing: it needs to be seen twice to take everything in, and perhaps to understand the torment and behaviour of the characters without spending time on the twisting plot.
Adaptation may be a surreal, dark movie perhaps too strange for some tastes, but stunning performances, a classy script and masterful direction make this hugely recommended. It's a beautiful, if not easy, look at human behaviour and emotional points in people's lives melted into surrealism and, at times, unbelievable scenarios. A movie of this quality and awe-inspiring beauty is as rare as John Laroche's beloved Ghost Orchid.
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on 21 March 2013
I bought this because I saw it some years ago and thought I remembered enjoying it. But with Nicolas Cage playing two roles, neither very attractive, and a setting of insecurity and angst in the steamy southern US it wasn't so enjoyable this time.
Everyone works very hard, but the story is so improbable that even Streep can't save it
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on 7 October 2013
I bought this film in a charity shop never having heard of it for a pound. Like 'Magnolia' this film does not conform to any known genre. Like life itself it sets out on a course it can never follow and the whole point of the film is the path of necessity that nature follows to fulfill its ends, whatever they may be. You may, as I did find the ending rather disappointing since it finally veers into standard 'rational' thriller pulp fiction, having been a quite profound observation on the evolution of human behaviour, but disappointment is also part of the theme and in my view it's definitely-definitely worth a watch. Great performances by Streep and Cage - who proves he can actually act. 4 stars because DVD transfer was only 'good' and ending was too scripted and didn't reflect quality of the original book but still the best pound I've spent for years.
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on 29 May 2004
As a student studying creative writing at university, 'Adaptation' is an invaluable insight into the process of screenwriting and, even more importantly and intriguing, the mind of a screenwriter. The fact that the writer in question is Charlie Kaufman, respected and revered amongst us writer-types for his previous works; 'Being John Malkovich' and 'Human Nature' (he is also author of the new 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind') is an added bonus. He justifiably mocks the screenwriting industry, "don't use that word", in fact the movie turns into a parody of formulaic thrillers. But Kaufman's (and his fictitious brother) story is not the only one here. Susan Orlean, author of the book on which the film is very loosely based, is brought in as a character: so we have the writer of the book and the writer of the screenplay, and of course the story of the book itself - three stories interweaving. Having watched the film countless times, you notice something new - usually excruciatingly clever - every time. The scriptbook is also available from Amazon for those who want to work it all out at a more leisurely pace!
But don't be put off by all my technical rubbish, 'Adaptation' is also a brilliant film in its own right, even if Kaufman and director Spike Jonze ensure that it is impossible to take it purely at face value.
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