Adaptation: Tuesday, December 13
Book Revue choice acts out the challenge of turning a book into a film
by Shirley Hartt
The Book Revue's next selection, the comedy-drama Adaptation, directed by Spike Jonze, was one of the most innovative films of 2002. It deals directly with the challenge of adapting a book to the screen, which is the focus of our monthly program about films and the books they're based on. Critic and writer Geoff Pevere returns to host our December session.
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman struggled to produce a screenplay from Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book, The Orchid Thief, which does not have an obvious dramatic story line (it is largely about orchids and collectors). “I thought Susan Orlean’s book was great and I wanted to be true to it. I didn’t know how.” In desperation, he finally wrote about a screenwriter’s battle to produce a script based on the book, using himself, Orlean, and the orchid thief, John Laroche, as characters in the film, plus adding a fictitious twin brother.
Susan Orlean balked at being a character in the film, especially one with unsavoury habits, but ultimately changed her mind, saying, “I felt like this was a very adventurous, exciting effort to do something really special.”
Despite a largely fictional plot, which featured Charlie and Donald Kaufman writing screenplays and Orlean having a romantic adventure with Laroche, the film stayed true to the message of The Orchid Thief. Orlean said: “The book is not chronological, it’s not really about this crime, it’s using the crime as a way of looking at issues of passion and desire and how you figure out your life, so in that way it’s very faithful.”
The book, The Orchid Thief, actually appears in the film. “I think my book is a character in the movie, which to me is far more thrilling than if the book simply dissolved and became just source material," Orlean said. "Instead it’s the protagonist in many ways in the movie. The physical entity of the book itself is there.”
There is a stellar cast with Nicholas Cage as the twin brothers, Charlie and Donald; Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean and Chris Cooper playing John Laroche. All three were nominated for Oscars, with Cooper winning for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Charlie Kaufman, along with the fictitious Donald, was nominated for many screenwriting awards, winning several.