“But by the end of its run, Lost, for all its dorm-room chatter about good and evil, had become something different: It was a hit series about the difficulties of finding an ending to a hit series. Cuselof had a deadline for years, which should have allowed them to pace out their puzzle’s solutions. Instead, we got cheesy temple vamping and a bereavement Holodeck. It became a show about placating, even sedating, fans, convincing them that, in the absence of anything coherent or challenging, love was enough.”—Emily Nussbaum on ‘Lost’ — New York Magazine TV Review
“Matt Damon came up to us at the SAG awards. He came to our table and was like, ‘I wanna be on your show.’ And then Glee won ensemble and he goes, ‘I changed my mind, I wanna be on that show.’ And then he came back a third time and was like, ‘No, I was kidding. Seriously, I wanna be on your show.’”—Tina Fey
“Some people view themselves as editors though nobody has supplied them with that title. Worse, perhaps, is that they view editing as the elimination of anything that they don’t agree with or believe in, wanting to replace it with their own opinions. I think that the best editors are those who love to explore the psyches of other artists, who love the different timbres of the human voice and like to have their own views challenged by others. I love to read, I think most editors love to read; the bad kind of editor, IMHO, only loves to re-write. They don’t respect difference and they’re perhaps too insecure about their own writing to accept the validity of opposing points or styles.”—
I’m sitting in Panera Bread and I just ate a huge turkey sandwich. It was way too big and I ate it anyway. I should really eat breakfast more often. I ate the whole thing because I can’t write. For days, I’ve had coffee and couldn’t write this piece and so I’d have more coffee and still not write. I’ve napped a lot. I’m lazy. Well, I suppose I’m more of a procrastinator but it’s the same thing, really, isn’t it? I don’t know why I assumed I had a grasp on this movie. I saw it years ago when it came out and it moved me to tears.And for years, I thought I knew what to think about it—and then I rewatched it and, well, here I am in Panera Bread with the guy next to me making throat-clearing snorting noises while using Hotmail. Yes, Hotmail. I am a writer, and yet I’m paralyzed by somehow misrepresenting my own thoughts, as if that’s even possible. I’m supposedly self-aware (according to the people I know),but lately I think that might be my downfall. I am too aware of how hard it is focus sometimes on what I’m working on, of how one of my eyebrows has a more attractive arch than the other, of how my ponytail isn’t fooling anyone into believing I’ve brushed my hair today, of how I’m not even sure how I can write this stupid sentence. I am trying to wrap myself around all the thoughts I am thinking about this movie and all the feelings it makes me feel, which rarely happens. I should get more coffee.
Shoshana: How’s it going? Are you almost done?
My twin sister is sitting across from me, tapping away at her laptop and trying to look serious, but I’m pretty sure she’s just reading Dlisted.com. I like celebrity gossip as much as anyone, but she tends to turn to me as she’s reading it and expect legitimate excitement about one of the Kardashians having a baby or something.
Anaïs: No. If I were done, I would be asleep right now.
Shoshana: Well, finish it so you can nap.
She really thought it was that simple. She’d watched Adaptation with me two nights ago and yet did not seem to share my crisis of purpose.
Anaïs: If it was that easy, I’d have been napping since Sunday. I just didn’t realize how complex this movie was—it’s like I just saw it for the first time. I don’t even know what to say.
Shoshana: Well, what’s it about?
Anaïs: That question is too simple. What ISN’T this movie about?
Shoshana: Well, you must have an idea of what you think it’s about.
Anaïs: I have too many ideas—that’s the problem. It’s about passion, and the creative process of writing and making a film. It’s about creation and evolution, frustration and growth. It’s too big! And it’s brilliant, and I can’t write about it because it can’t even be described.
Shoshana: Okay, so we know you like it. What’s happening in it, though?
Anaïs: Well, Charlie Kaufman wrote himself into it, and while that sounds narcissistic, it’s not a flattering depiction at all. He’s sort of stuck in his own head for most of the movie; it’s like he can’t shut off his brain, so almost everything is seen from his own neurotic perspective. We see the way his brain obsesses about his own flaws and fixates on women—especially Susan Orlean, since her work is his writing assignment. And even though he exudes brilliance, we can see how limited his scope is.
Shoshana: He wasn’t as fat as he thought he was.
Anaïs: Well, no … but that’s not really the point.
Shoshana: No, no, what I mean is that he was really obsessed with how he was fat and a loser and all of this stuff, but he was really just drowning in his own self involvement.
I looked at her and wondered how she got more than I gave her credit for. She sipped iced tea with a “duh!” look on her face.
Anaïs: Right. Like he got so caught up in his own head while writing his script that he forgot not only how to write people, but how to live.
Shoshana: Yeah, and Donald seemed to have a better grasp on life. At least he could talk to people. And he finished his cop-with-multiple-personalities script. Technology vs. horse!
Anaïs: Don’t say technology vs. horse. See, it wasn’t anything new, he just wanted to sell a screenplay. He literally recycled every cliche in a thriller to write it, and he followed all of these rules from McKee’s workshop, and that’s why Charlie’s agent and everyone liked it. It followed all the rules.
Shoshana: But the end of Adaptation also has an ending that follows the rules! It’s got this secret love story, and car chases, and murder. That’s where it drew me in.
Anaïs: No, it didn’t follow the rules. That’s where you’re wrong. Kaufman follows the rules on purpose.
Shoshana: Wait, Charlie or Donald?
Anaïs: Donald’s not real. I mean the actual Charlie Kaufman, the real-life one. He sabotages it to show how you can seduce the audience. None of that was actually true; Susan Orlean never had an affair with John Laroche. There’s not a twin named Donald who got murdered, Kaufman’s just testing the viewers. The ones who want two hours of entertainment get to the typical movie stuff and are like, “Awesome, finally!”—but if you’re watching this journey, if you’re a creative person who has ever understood what it’s like to create something that’s more than a cliche, you’re in on the joke.
Shoshana: Okay, but Charlie is pretty unhappy for the most part, while Donald seems content with life. So who’s “right”?
Anaïs: It’s not as simple as who’s right or wrong. The fictional Charlie and the definitely fictional Donald are both characters in this script, and really, they seem to be parts of a larger whole of a person. Donald teaches Charlie how to see things differently—and, as a result, gives him more confidence and hope. In a way, they’re halves of what should be a complete person. By the end of the movie, Charlie certainly seems closer to peace and, maybe, completion.
Shoshana: Well, I’m glad that Charlie Kaufman didn’t have to kill his twin brother in real life to become more complete.
Anaïs: He doesn’t have a twin brother, Shan. That’s just a character in the movie.
Shoshana: Yeah, but what does that mean? Because some of the characters were real life people being played by other people, and some of the characters were real life people playing themselves.
Anaïs: Right. Susan Orlean and John Laroche are actual people, but here they are played by Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper—and obviously their interactions might not be accurate. The love story and the drugs and the murder are also fictional, but these are not fictional people, so even as you’re watching, you’re wondering: Where do they exist? How do they exist? Are the Susan Orlean and John Laroche on screen any less real than the ones in real life?
Shoshana: You just said they’re movie characters, though.
Anaïs: They are, just like I said about Donald, but they are also people who exist in real life. So are Catherine Keener and John Malkovich, and they’re playing themselves in the movie. But are they actually playing themselves? Maybe the line between fiction and reality is blurred.
Shoshana: So nothing is real.
Anaïs: There is reality. But how much of it is created, and how much of it is altered due to perception?
Shoshana: Well, I don’t know. The movie is about the process of making Adaptation, right? Which has to be real. Because the movie was made.
Anaïs: It’s about the process of adapting The Orchid Thief, but we aren’t necessarily watching the conception of what we know as Adaptation. But we can all relate to the universal act of creation. And of synthesis, even the synthesis of a person (like Charlie) who evolves and changes. When McKee tells him that the characters have to change, Charlie must also go through the change, because he’s written himself into this movie. He changes in order to create something new, a self-referential work of art feeding off of its own image.
Shoshana: This is what you call meta, isn’t it.
Anaïs: Don’t say “meta.”
Shoshana: I had a feeling.
Anaïs: It’s just that the title is really what this comes back to. The film is not just about the orchids that have learned to “adapt” to dangerous swamps in Florida and evolve to survive in a greenhouse; it’s also about how people adapt. Take Laroche, this fasttalking conman whose obsession oscillates from porn to orchids to porn. When one thing doesn’t work out, he moves on. He has that brilliant line about how he loves computers because you can immerse yourself in them, and because they’re not people, they won’t leave or disappoint you. But he’ll leave and disappoint anything he needs to. He’s a survivor, and he changes in order to keep surviving. Orlean mostly doesn’t know how to change, so she reports objectively on the world. It isn’t until she strays from her habits that things are set into motion, that she begins to grow.
Shoshana: You mean, she does drugs and her boyfriend gets killed.
Anaïs: Well, yes. That’s it, though. In order to make something, you have to keep growing and evolving. Charlie couldn’t write this script until he got out of the stagnant state he’d been in. He ends up braver, hopeful: kissing Amelia and telling her he loves her. He was adapting The Orchid Thief to film, yes—but he was also adapting his conception of himself to life.
Shoshana: It felt pretty real for being fictional.
Anaïs: Again: what’s real?
Anaïs Escobar is a writer and she blogs here. She probably doesn’t have a twin sister named Shoshana.
Anaïs delivers two heaping helpings of rampant creativity with this one. Massively fun read. Kudos.