Question about Adaptation - SPOILERS

Due to the fact that I really, really, really had to go to the bathroom I missed about 90 seconds of the film toward the end.

Here is where I had to leave:

After Laroche is killed by the alligator and Charlie watches Donald die, Susan Orlean starts yelling at Charlie about how he doesn’t know anything about love.
When I got back, Charlie was eating lunch with his old girlfriend.

Did Donald or Susan say anything profound during that time?

I think I figured out what happened, but I’m just seeking confirmation.

[spoiler]He yells at her back and calls her an old pathetic druggie. She starts crying, “I want my old life back like it was before it got all fucked up. I want to be new. I want to be new again like a baby!” (I’m paraphrasing.)

I guess I would say it was pseudo-profound. You must have also missed the part where he sits and cries in the aftermath of the scene of the accident and calls his mom to tell her. As far as I remember the next scene is at the restaurant.


I’m surprised there isn’t more discussion of this movie here. It’s very discussable.

Thank you. I sort of thought that what happened judging by the final scene.

I thought it was a pretty good movie, but it really hasn’t been in wide release yet.

Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep are excellent in their roles.

Has anyone actually read “The Orchid Thief”?

Very clever film. Almost too clever for its own good. I was loving the first 80-90 minutes and then it turned bad. But for an excellent reason. At first I was wondering “is this movie carshing & burning”, then it dawned on me why it took the dierction it did. When I left the movie, I was kind of disappointed that they were gonna actually let the movie end as it did, but driving home I realized that Kaufman had no other choice…not if he wanted to remain honest with the script.

I saw it yesterday and didn’t have internet access until today, so forgive the really late thread bump. I was surprised that I got so caught up in the relationship between Charlie and Donald I managed to avoid being too distracted by their special effects portrayal by Nicholas Cage. On that note, I think Cage gave an exceptional performance, as did Chris Cooper. Cooper played Laroche as I imagined him in the book (which I’d recommend reading, along with Orlean’s new collection, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup): a desperate but charismatic former swashbuckler, if that makes any sense. He was the high point of the film for me, even beyond Charlie. I’ve never been a huge Meryl Streep fan, but I did like her as Orlean. I’m definitely going to need some more time to think about Adaptation, particularly the blending of fact and fiction in the narrative.

I thought it was an interesting and strong film and it was a definite relief for my curiosity when I finally got to see it.

I went in expecting to be blown away by Nic Cage after all the Oscar talk I’d heard. And he was good, don’t get me wrong. If he gets a nomination he definitely deserves it. But I was really shocked by the amazing job done by Chris Cooper. I really really hope he gets some attention for this.

I’m resurrecting this film because I just saw it this evening and would like to discuss it.

Mainly, I’d like to talk about the ending. Was it real, or was it all created in Charlie’s mind? The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that the ending was all just a fantasy Charlie invented to finish the story.

Let’s look at the evidence:

  1. Charlie has multiple fantasies throughout the movie. Granted, they’re all, to this point, masturbatory in nature, but still…
  2. He’s barely slept. He’s going insane trying to create an ending and it’s destroying his whole world.
  3. The screenwriting guru said that endings needed something people remember but, at the same time, true to the characters.
  4. Right after that, we learn for the very first time all about the drug of the orchid, the drug addiction, the affair, and the murderous tendencies of both a simple orchid thief and a mild mannered journalist.
  5. No one talks about the brother who died when he gets back.
  6. Let’s be honest here. Someone just tried to kill you and did manage to kill your brother. Are you really going to finish a screenplay for this person?

I think Charlie imagined the entire ending. He was so desperate for a resolution he created an entire backstory to help build credibility when the murderous rampage of his adversaries kicked in. If they weren’t true to their characters, so what? We’ve already established Charlie can ignore writing conventions like Voice-overs.

I even think he’s been imagining his own brother. His brother is really his alter ego, the one everyone seems to love, who’s a hack writer creating unbelievable characters with multiple personality disorders.

I FINALLY got to see this movie yesterday. It rocked, but I think I’m going to have to see it again to get everything. I had such high anticipation for the movie that it had undue pressure on it to be good.

** Enderw24 **, my reading of the ending was that Donald wrote it. Charlie calls Donald from the hotel room after his agent tells him that Donald has sold “The Three” for boucoup bucks and suggested to Charlie that he aske Donald for help finishing the script. Then Donald comes to NYC and the film changes (pretty much from the point where Donald says the script “kinda makes fun of me, huh?”) From there on out, the film turns into one of Donald’s tense suspense thrillers, with the drugs, the suddenly murderous Susan, the chase through the swamp (did you notice the ** Lord of the Rings ** reference when Donald and Charlie were hiding behind the fallen log like the hobbits from the Nazgul?) and the dreaded deus ex machina ending that McKee had warned Charlie about? Also notice that the character of Donald changes from a bumbling idiot hack to a heroic, profound saying spouting martyr. This is because Donald is suddenly behind the keyboard and he wants to make himself look good.

The moment when I laughed the loudest in the whole movie was when Charlie was in the hotel room with a copy of McKee’s book * Story *. I have that exact edition of that book on my bookshelf, and read it last year trying to learn screenwriting–just like Charlie, Donald, and hundreds of thousands of other aspiring writers!

Next up, Charlie Kaufman adapts Throw Momma From the Train – the book we see Larry Donner write at the end of Throw Momma From the Train. Question: does Donner’s book end with him learning of Owen’s pop-up version? Does the book end with the characters on a beach?

This is an excellent assessment. What a bizarre movie.

vibrotronica, yes. That makes sense now! I was wondering why Donald’s character changed so dramatically but I never put 2 and 2 together and figured out that Donald was writing about himself.

So Donald was real then but the ending was still fake. you is so smrt.

Yep, Donald wrote everything after the point where it was suggested that Charlie ask Donald for some help with the movie. From there on out it descends into predictable, Hollywood rubbish - but it’s fun to watch because it’s such a change, and even more fun when you realise (as I did only after going home and idly musing a bit) that the whole thing was penned by Donald. Very clever little movie.

That interpretation does make sense though it didn’t occur to me while watching the film itself. I still think it’s too gimmicky and ultimately unsatistying.

I thought Adaptation worked just fine as a straight comedy and I wish the writers had found a way to keep it that way without all the self-referential cleverness. I had a similar problem with Being John Malkovich which I thought was terrific as a comedy until it turned into a weird melodrama. So this seems to be a Kaufmann/Jonze weakness.

I agree that Cooper, Cage and Streep are all excellent. At first I thought Cage’s Charlie Kaufmann was a bit too stereotypical as the neurotic writer but he grew on me. His Donald was great throughout and it was remarkable how easy the two are to distinguish from their mannerisms and speech.

So overall a good film if rather overrated by the critics. I think About Schmidt was the better of the two high-profile comedies released recently.

I have a question for you guys. When you see a movie like this, are there certain scenes in which you visualize the words “OSCAR CLIP” flashing on the screen?

That was very much what I “saw” when the Brothers were hiding in the swamp.

Definitely a showcase scene.

Huh. When the movie turned from going-nowhere mode to Hollywood suspense thriller mode, I thought about how Charlie had originally maintained that people never change, they don’t learn dramatic life lessons, and that things in general don’t happen. And then how McKee rips him a new asshole for even suggesting such a thing in his seminar, and from that point on, things really do start to happen the way they do in movies, right down to the deus ex machina alligator attack that saves Charlie from getting shot.

But I think I like vibrotronica’s take best. Very weird movie. But I haven’t read anything about it, so I’m surprised to learn that there really is such a book as “The Orchid Thief”! I thought the existence of the book was part of the fiction. And there really is such a person as McKee?!? My mind is blown.

Yeah I knew about McKee from some of the reviews but I hadn’t realized that the book and the Cooper and Streep characters were real too. Of course I knew that Being John Malkovich was a real movie written by Charlie Kaufman with some of the real actors shown working on the set.

“things really do start to happen the way they do in movies, right down to the deus ex machina alligator attack that saves Charlie from getting shot.”
That’s another another problem. The ending in the movie goes against what McKee is saying since he is vehemently opposed to the use of deus ex machina. So it’s really not a case of Charlie (or Donald) changing course and writing a McKee syle ending but instead writing just a bad Hollywood ending.
So it’s really not clear what the movie is trying to say and what the point of the whole McKee sub-plot is. The ending just appears to be a gimmick for its own sake.

I disagree. One of the main themes of the movie is the relationship between the constructed reality of film and the “real” reality in which we live every day. the point is that the constructed reality of film creates false expectations of real life for the viewer. Charlie says he wants to write a movie about “flowers” which preserves the loose, talky feel of the Orlean book. He does not want to write a movie where people “undergo life changing experiences,” because that’s not how things happen in real life. McKee, acting as the voice of Hollywood (because so many of Hollywood writers use his theories) disagrees loudly and says that such a movie would be a waste of time. He says (in his introductary lecture) that the principals he espouses are the result of years and years of experience chalked up by countless Hollywood writers, and that, no matter what you may think abou them, they work. Airing the debate is the point of the McKee sub plot.

Despite what Charlie WANTS to do, he finds himself unable to accomplish it and enlists the help of his McKee-worshiping brother to finish the movie. The ending hits all of the cliches that Charlie despises and McKee warned against because the character that wrote it is a hack. But in some perverse way, it IS kind of following McKee’s maxims–he says to be sure that “action flows from character, and that the problems the characters face are solved from within themselves.” The problem the characters face here is finishing the * Orchid Thief * portion of the script. The character that solves the problem does so in a way that is consistant with his character–he writes a hack ending which does NOT conform with McKee’s philosphy of screenwriting because the Donald, being a little dense, does not really understand it.

The movie posits that the process of adapting works for the screen as the process is set up now (with agents, directors, producers, and writers) will inevitably distort and ruin the work. Lo and behold, despite the best efforts and intentions of Charlie, that’s exactly what happens to * The Orchid Thief *. The ending, while admittly a gimmick, is not merely “for it’s own sake”, but works within the framework of the movie to advance the themes. Plus it’s funny.

Or at least I thought it was funny. I saw it on Saturday afternoon as part of a packed house. There was a group of people sitting in front of me who could not get out of the theater fast enough when it was clear that the movie was over. They were gone before the credits rolled. A guy sitting close to me who I talked to after the movie said he thought a woman sitting next to him started crying when Donald died. I was laughing. The way the ending is made pushes all of those Hollywood buttons that have been ingrained in the moviegoer for years and years, and it does so pretty effectively. It’s kind of like some Frank Zappa music–the music is meant ironically, but it is so technically proficient that it’s hard to tell if he’s kidding or not. I think the ending is going to turn a lot of viewers off. They’re going to leave the theater feeling like they’ve tricked or something–like the movie was laughing AT them, not with them. I do not believe that was the filmmaker’s intent–IMHO, they were trying to point out the crappy cliches to the audience and thus put a spear in those old whales once and for all–but I think that’s what some people are going to think. Lots of people hated Andy Kaufman for the same reason.

OK so Charlie can’t write a script according to his principles so he ends up selling out and writing (or getting Donald to write) a bad Hollywood script. That doesn’t strike me as being a particularly rich theme deserving of a complex self-referential plot. They could have made the point in a straightforward manner much more effectively IMO.

And it’s still not clear to me how the McKee sub-plot fits in here since he is not a hack and the movie that he admires so much, Casablanca, is a masterpiece.

It would have been much more interseting if the writers had written a good McKee-style script with Charlie gradually changing his writing philosophy and at the same time the movie morphing into a more coventional but still interesting film. That would have taken some skill but it would have been a lot more interesting than writing a bad Hollywood ending to satirize bad Hollywood endings which is all that the ending amounts to.

I love the theory about Donald writing the last part of the script. It all makes so much more sense now. I really didn’t understand the ending at first. I thought that some producer had gotten ahold of the film and taken over for the ending (vis a vis, Behind Enemy Lines).

But this is great. What wonderful satire. I love it.

Ha! You’re right, but that film was not interested in doing ANYTHING in a straightforward manner!

I don’t think the movie thinks McKee is a hack (although, here is a link to his screenwriting credits:,+Robert so you be the judge), I think it uses McKee as the mouthpiece for “conventional” Hollywood thinking. And McKee himself is perfectly OK with this; in the Village Voice he said he was allowed to pick the actor who portrayed him. He also said that Adaptation was “a fairly conventional education plot.” The purpose of the McKee subplot, as I see it, was to argue (rather forcefully) why things are the way they are–specifically, why movies present the version of reality that they do. I think this is a pretty bold move on the filmmaker’s part because they could have just said “Conventional screenwriting wisdom is all bunk!” and left it at that. Instead, they gave the foremost advocate of conventional screenwriting wisdom time in their movie to argue the point for himself, in pretty much his own words.

You may have a point there, but remember that it is supposed to be a comedy. It’s much funnier to watch the Coyote fall off of the cliff than it is to watch him actually catch the Roadrunner.