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September 10, 2010 by jamesessj

Just saw, at long last, Charlie Kaufman’s and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation — an interesting film,but fatally flawed, for two reasons:

1.  The general consensus on what Kaufman was up to is, in a word, tragedy:  the character of Charlie Kaufman in the film ends up betraying his own principles, writing a film that includes all those elements he’s decried throughout (a chase, gunplay, violence, an ending where the character is “filled with hope for the first time”), a betrayal that’s due largely, if not entirely, to his desire to honor his brother Donald.

The problem with this is that the chase — the gunplay — the violence — everything that occurs in the absurd, ridiculous last half-hour of the movie — actually happened to the character of Charlie Kaufman, if we are to take the movie at its own word.  So his betrayal of his principles is not a betrayal at all, but rather a presentation of events as they truly occurred.  How can this be seen as Charlie’s meta-level tragedy if all Charlie is doing is telling it as it was?  His story has tragic elements, yes — Donald’s death, Laroche’s death, Susan Orlean’s entire life — but these are elements within the story; not above, or outside, the story.

At heart, this is a confusion between character-Kaufman and actual-real-life-screenwriter Kaufman, which was obviously intentional, but apparently not thought through to its logical conclusion by either Kaufman or Jonze or anyone else working on the film…you can’t excuse a dopey ending by trying to mask it (with oh-so-postmodern cleverness) as the characters’ fault.  They’re only doing what they’re told — don’t blame them.

2.  The character of Charlie Kaufman, as played by Nick Cage and written by Kaufman, is wholly unoriginal.  Sweating embarrassingly at a lunch meeting with a pretty film exec?  Unable even to make a simple move on a girl who obviously likes him back?  Paralyzed by self-doubt at every turn?  –Granted, there are millions of these sorts of people walking around (one of them occasionally even fills my shoes), but we’ve seen this character in the movies time and time again.  There simply isn’t anything terribly new here.  So he writes screenplays — so what?  His life is not appreciably different than that of dozens of other shlubby, lonely, sad movie characters.

You could make the argument that the unoriginality of this character is yet another manifestation of Donald’s impact on the screenplay…but then we’re back to Point 1.

Kaufman had a hell of a theme to work with here — the double meaning of the title, the question of How does a person adapt?  How does a person make peace with life and find some modicum of happiness and fulfillment?  He had a million ways to go, a million directions to choose from.  He chose…poorly.


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the author, if he lives that long

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September 2010
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