Director: Spike Jonze
Adaptation is a movie that refuses to be pinned down. It comes from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, the writer who previously gave us Being John Malkovich and who subsequently gave us Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York. Kaufman’s movies don’t inhabit the same universe as other film makers. His movies take place in the minds of super neurotic men and women and they navigate time and space the way a metal ball navigates a Pinball Machine at warp speed. And when I say they take place in the mind, I mean that in a very literal sense, the mind of his protagonist is often the setting of the movie. His movies have layers and layers of meaning, tucked inside multiple levels of non-linear storytelling. In Adaptation you have the story of a a determined man, John Laroche, who has figured out an ingenious way to steal priceless rare Orchids, using Native Americans to do his dirty work for him, since the Orchids are a part of their ancient homeland. This is enough material for a movie itself, but it is only the first level of story here. The story of Laroche, and of the Orchids, (which is what much of it winds up being) is picked up by a writer for the New Yorker named Susan Orleans, who begins a unique relationship with Laroche, which is again, enough material for a movie in its own right.
On the next level of the puzzle, Orleans’ book is being made into a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage, not the real one…). Kaufman struggles with the screenplay and adapting it into something more than just a typical linear story, while his half-witted twin brother (Nicholas Cage, again…) goes on to take screen-writing classes and churns out formulaic blockbusters that get him rave reviews. To say this plot has twists and turns would be quite the understatement. This is the kind of movie that forces you to pay attention or else you will become hopelessly lost. It is a brave movie that is not afraid to trust its audience’s intelligence (there is a refreshing lack of explanatory dialogue; you have to put this puzzle together by yourself…). One of the big strengths of the movie is the likeability of the Kaufman character. We hear all of his inner most thoughts through internal narration, and he is easy to identify and emphasize with. Nicholas Cage it seems is two different actors at once. There is the cool, know it all, tough guy from National Treasure, Ghost Rider, and other dime a dozen blockbusters. This is the Nicholas Cage I can do without. Then there is the vulnerable, neurotic Cage from Raising Arizona, Matchstick Men, the Weatherman and this movie. This is the Nicholas Cage that I cannot do without, and wish we saw more of.