Every December, studios try to release some of their best movies in an attempt to
get them on the 'best of' lists of movie critics and major publications. This year is no different with an entire avalanche of new releases for the art house crowd. However some of these are more accessible to mainstream audiences in that their content offers something different from the status quo.
Headlining this attempt is Adaptation, the twisted new movie from the makers of the classic gem 'Being John Malkovich'. And while this time round the effect isn't exactly as fresh as was 3 years ago, Adaptation still manages to be one of the more invigorating new releases to see the light of day this year.
The movie starts off with perhaps the most brilliant self-scathing, sardonic monologue ever put together for the big screen. These are words being uttered by Nicholas Cage's character, Charlie Kaufman, who is in fact playing the writer of this very movie, describing himself. In trying to understand his own purpose of existence, Kaufman takes us literally to the beginning of time, but to no avail.
The events then shifts back in time from the present to try and explain how the screenplay for this movie was written, or at least was attempted to be written, and then again further back to try and reveal how it was origianlly adapted from a book about Orchids, written by novelist Susan Orlean (a daringly different Meryl Streep). We are also introduced to Charlie's twin brother Donald (also played by Cage), more cheerful, more secure, and in true Hollywood fashion, also less interesting. Also making his presence felt, in no less a grand way, is Chris Cooper, as John Laroche, a horticulturist who thinks like an entrepreneur, the person on whom the book that Susan is writing is based upon. By the end of this journey, everyone will have learned a valuable lesson or two, but not without conveying a deeply felt message to audiences as well.
I'm convinced after watching Adaptation that Charlie Kaufman writes what are perhaps the most intense and cerebral moral conflict movies. If Malkovich was about being too big a monomaniac, then Adaptation is about the (often futile) search for that something that is just out of reach, in this case analogized by the ever present Orchid. Charlie's Orchid is his need for seeking self-improvement while Susan's Orchid is her need to be loved passionately by another. The screenplay attempts to juxtapose peoples manic obsessiveness with their need to be accomplished individuals. This obsessiveness is never well defined or static however. Susan first feels the need to finish her book, and later this need is found to be in direct correlation to her wanting Laroche. Charlie first feels the need to finish his screenplay, and later this need is found to be connected to his (in)ability to speak with Susan. Brilliant stuff!
The first person narrative of the screenplay allows us to identify with Charlie. His is an extreme case of writer's block, where the author has forgotten what ails him in an attempt to cure the disease without accepting the symptoms. Its fascinating to see the script being manipulated by the protagonist on screen. Its guileful yes, but in the same way that interactive DVD is, and it never feels like cheating. The last arc dives into dark territory, which is all the more surprising given the nature of all that has previously been explored. This is perhaps the best written movie this year, as well as being one of the most entertaining. - Faizan Rashid