Adaptation is fucking brilliant

Since I know at least one Qt3er is going to see this movie tonight, I thought I’d jump start a thread for what is my #2 movie of the year.

[warning: spoiler, although very broad as far as spoilers go…]

Yes, it falls apart in the end.

But it’s supposed to. It predicts everything that will go wrong, doesn’t believe it’s own prediction, and then falls prey to it, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is a solipsistic Cassandra. That gets extra points for actually having the intelligence and self-awareness to use the word ‘solipsistic’.

That is falls apart is the whole point of the movie: the creative process is a royal bitch that will destroy you in the end, so just give in and be a hack. Beautiful! It is a movie that refuses to rise above the proper amount of self-loathing and insecurity that any normal human being experiences. It is a confirmation of failure and doubt. A clever ode to the inevitability of mediocrity.

Also, on a more specific not, it finally represents car wrecks as the horrible violent events that they are. So often, we see them from the outside, with stunt men or dummies or digital cars. Or we have the actors put in tumbling sets; the Fight Club car wreck looks pretty goofy after you’ve heard Fincher explains how they did it. But Adaptation uses digital technology to make them scary terrible violent outbursts. It’s exciting to see digital tricks used to create things we’ve seen a million times before, but in more inventive ways (the first race scene in The Fast and the Furious is another instance of this).

 -Tom

I’m going to see it tonight, hopefully after being at work since 6am and going to the midnight showing I’ll be able to view it with a clear head. I’m really looking forward to this movie.

Do you honestly believe that? Or are you being ironic about Kaufman’s irony? It’s so hard to tell these days.

I’ve never understood why self-awareness grants an artists with a get-out-jail-free card. Every day we are treated to confirmations of doubt and clever odes to mediocrity in the form of boring games, television, and movies. The fact that an artist makes plain what everyone already tacitly understands has never really impressed me.

Plus, doesn’t this guy at least feel good about writing Being John Malkovich, one of the most original films in the last few years? I am not familiar with his other work, but isn’t he highly regarded as a screenwriter?

I haven’t seen Adaptation yet. I’ve got my tickets for the 9:40 show, though.

I haven’t seen Adaptation yet. I’ve got my tickets for the 9:40 show, though.

Hey, you’re not allowed to weigh in until you’ve seen it! Then you can come back and answer your own questions. :)

 -Tom

SPOILERS

Tom, I think you missed the cleverest twist in the whole film. My wife thought it fell apart in the end, too. She said “It was really funny, but then the end just got really… odd.”

Watch it again, though. The exact scene at which the film veers off on that right angle is the scene where Charlie swallows his pride, asks Donald to come out to NY, and then asks him for some help on the screenplay. From that point on the plot plays out like one of Donald’s amusingly contrived formula movie plots. The movie falls apart because it’s a movie about Charlie writing the screenplay, and Donald helps him finish it. So in that sense, it doesn’t really fall apart at all, or at least it falls apart intentionally. I thought it was pretty damn clever, if subtle.

Fantastic film, though. And damn funny. “My genre’s ‘Thriller!’” Classic.

Tom, I think you missed the cleverest twist in the whole film.

Not at all! I just didn’t post an outright spoiler. But now that cat’s out of the bag… :)

So in that sense, it doesn’t really fall apart at all, or at least it falls apart intentionally.

Which is exactly what I was getting at. I think people who criticize the ending, as if it were a shortcoming, are missing the point.

“My genre’s thriller. What’s yours?”

 -Tom

Ah, I gotcha. Well, I did post a spoiler warning, at least. We originally planned to see Chicago tonight (with Dave Perkins and his wife), but then our dinner plans ran late, and we were forced to see Adaptation instead. A fortunate accident, since I loved it.

Er, I got all that and I still disliked the ending. Justifying triteness by admitting it (even with the extra Donald element) hasn’t been original since Scream. However, I really, really liked the first hour of the movie.

Take my opionion with a grain of salt, though. For comparison, I loved the ending of 25th Hour.

Edit: Also, the car accidents were amazing.

Ok. Just got back; it’s 12:45 am; I woke up at 4 this morning; this is a milestone week at work, so very tired.

Now that I’ve prefaced my remarks with some stupidity warnings, I will say that I think Adaptation is absolutely fucking brilliant but for a slightly different reason than Tom does.

I agree completely with Tom’s reading that the film intentionally breaks down in the third act when Charlie gives into his Hollywood version, his Donald. He quits trying to figure a way to make an original movie about flowers and lets the inner hack come out.

However, what if we read the film not simply as an oh-so-clever narrative ouroboros, but as a serious statement about desire and passion for something, anything? What if the stuff Charlie sneers at the beginning of the film, like “heartwarming” films about people having an epiphany to truly discover themselves, the stuff he dismisses as sentimental Hollywood banality, he actually comes to embrace? What if Charlie gives up his neurosis and discovers the emotional truth underneath the Hollywood bullshit? What if the flowers and happy pop song at the end, that he vowed would never be in one of his films, is not meant as symbol of a sell-out, vacant Hollywood ending, but as sincere sign of his depression and neurosis lifting, his writer’s block ending, his love for a woman expressed?

I don’t think this is the right read on the film, but what makes Adaptation so brilliant is that it supports both of them equally. The hip, Stanley Fish-quoting, black turtle neck wearing scenesters can grin at the film’s po-mo ending and feel at one with the brilliant, lonely, struggling writer who can’t escape this culture’s celebration of mediocrity. And the plainspoken, Dr. Phil-quoting, red baseball cap wearing moviegoers can grin at the film’s cheerful ending and feel at one with the happy, relieved, love-sick writer who has finally brought some sunshine, flowers, and pop music into his life.

I think Adaptation has the ability to successfully bear two almost contradictory readings, which is what makes it so brilliant in my book. Also, it is funny as hell.

“Banana Nut. That’s a good muffin.”

Whereas Scream’s subject matter was horror films, Adaptation’s subject matter was the creative process. I think Scream has more of a claim to triteness.

Granted, this sort of self-reflection isn’t necessarily original. But in Adaptation, IMO, it’s brilliant.

I’m with you 100% there. Beautiful stuff. After seeing Brian Cox sqaundering his talents splashing around in a tub wearing an electric bridle in The Ring, what a delight that conclusion was.

Yep, although I don’t know who Stanley Fish or Dr. Phil are, so I’m not sure which camp I’m in.

 -Tom

I think it’s made pretty clear that Charlie’s initial distate for self-discovery or character development is a product of his timid nature in real life. When he first pitches (“please don’t say pitch”) the screenplay at the beginning of the movie, the woman (Valerie, was it?) tells him that it needs something more, that maybe he could have Susan and John LaRoche fall in love. He argues that there is nothing like that in the book, that he wants to keep it “real.” But there WAS something between the real Susan and John, something that Susan had purposely kept out of the book. What exactly existed between them is unclear, especially when you consider that everything we see is an interpretation from either Charlie or Donald. But I think that in Charlie’s eventual confrontation with McKee he realizes that people do change and have moments of self-discovery, that dramatic things do happen, and that real life doesn’t care whether or not it makes for banal fiction. Or something like that.

“Banana Nut. That’s a good muffin.”

I also almost fell out of my chair for this one:

Charlie: “The script I’m starting, it’s about flowers. Noone’s ever done a movie about flowers before. So there are no guidelines…”

Donald: “What about “Flowers for Algernon”?”

Charlie: “Well, that’s not about flowers. And it’s not a movie.”

Donald: “Ok, I’m sorry, I never saw it.”

I just want to know when we can expect to see “The 3” in theaters. I want to see it!

Once again, I’m with Mr. Ron Dulin. I loved the first 3/4 and didn’t love the rest. I understand the clever idea behind the ending, but that doesn’t make it any more entertaining as an actual experience. It’s like most of the things described in the program guide for the old Cleveland Annual Festival of Performance Art - clever ideas whose entire clever point could be completely made in a three sentence description, saving you the trouble of sitting through the two hour version.

Maybe bowing to convention makes you a hack. But I’ve seen good feel good movies, good melodramas, and good action movies. So have you. The last 25 minutes of Adaptation isn’t a good melodramatic feel good action movie. It isn’t even a very clever parody of a melodramatic feel good action movie. I understand that that’s the point - Donald’s untalented. The happy ending is a fake; By letting Donald’s ideas destroy the movie just to prove that Donald’s an idiot, Charlie has succumbed to his worst narcissistic impulses. He hasn’t learned a goddamn thing or become a better person. It’s a neat concept - but a brilliant execution of that idea would have either compressed it or somehow got the message across without bringing the movie crashing down around it for twenty straight minutes. How? I’m not a genius, so I have no idea.

Hmm… you guys might want to check yourselves on this one. If you’re rooting for Charlie (as you probably are) and Donald wins in the end, its a simple case of Villain defeating Hero and audience being pissed.

And you offer a pseudo-rationalization of your dislike for THIS by saying “the ending was poorly done”.

No wonder Hollywood always feels that they have to have a happy ending. Even the supposedly “enlightened” Qt3ers can’t have it any other way.

Brian, you very obviously have not seen the movie, and have no clue what you are talking about. But thanks for the random and completely baseless insight.

But I think he has. He is able to express to the British woman (I’ve forgotten here name. Ameila?) his love for her and he is alright with the fact that she cannot reciprocate his love. He isn’t crushed or devastated. His writer’s block is gone, he’s excited about his movie (“I wonder who’ll play me?”) and the fim ends on a bright note with his depression lifting.

With all due respect, I think you’ve only grasped half of the concept. You’re right to view Donald’s “victory” as a cynical capitulation to formulaic Hollywood thinking. However, Donald’s “victory” is also a victory for Charlie because he now honestly believes in happy endings, that maybe, contrary to what he said in the first reel of the film, people do have personal epiphanies, overcome deep self-doubt and have “Hollywood” moments. If you’re the type of person who dismisses sentiments such as “you’re defined by who you love, not by who loves you” as yet another simpleminded Hollywood bromide, then you likely think the last 20 minutes of the film as a failure. But if you do believe in “Hollywood” endings, then the last 20 minutes become a victory – not for Great Art, but for Charlie.

The fact that Adaptation can be read legitmately as both cycnical and sentimental at the same time is what makes it so brilliant, imho.

SPOILERS

Just to build on Jim’s response to Erik, if you recall the beginning of the movie, Charlie is spouting off all the cliches about how he percieves himself, too fat, too bald, etc. By using the ending he did he acknowleged the typical Hollywood cliches and that allowed him to acknowledge his personal ones. After that epiphany, he was able to overcome those fears and make a real connection with Amelia.

I enjoyed Adaptation a lot, and it’s fun to read everyone’s interpretations. I hadn’t thought about some of the more subtle stuff you guys have brought up. I did feel a little dissatisifed with the movie in the end, but I can’t put my finger on exactly why.

On another note, Nicolas Cage was awesome. I had pretty much written him off after his great performances in Moonstruck and especially Raising Arizona, but this was a return to form. There were times in Adaptation when my suspension of disbelief was complete and I actually thought Charlie and Donald were two separate people/actors. They were different enough to seem like distinct individuals, but similar enough to feel like two sides of the same person. Watching him deliver the goods was my favorite aspect of the film.

I found his performance as Charlie was almost too mannered, too self conscious. I must say, his inner monolgues were eerily like my own when talking to women, which was sort of disturbing. Now I loved Chris Cooper… he was fantastic, and he’s been one of my favorites for a long time, and I think he’ll finally get the notoriety (i.e. an Academy Award nomination) he deserves.

I’m with the camp that dislikes the ending. It’s clearly Donald’s ending, yeah, but as such, did Charlie actually have that big awakening at the end or was it merely the “filmed Donald” version of Charlie? Was it real or was it fake? The film is so meta it’s hard to say what you’re actually watching.

But regardless of the interpretation, I’m with Ron and Erik that it’s a rather poor, contrived feel-good ending, and even if that was his intent, why do I have to suffer through it? But what bugs me is that it’s the same sort of pandering to an audience you see in a Michael Moore “documentary.” It’s designed for people like Tom Chick to feel all smug about how they’re the ones that see how awful and obvious all Hollywood movies really are. I really don’t mean Tom Chick specifically, but come on, who else is going to see this movie but the sort of people that already think standard Hollywood movies are shallow? We need Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze to tell us this? This is some big epiphany? It’s more like, “Duh.”

I’d rather see Kaufman and Jonze tackle a more conventional genre and really fuck around with it. Give them $100 million and an effects budget and make a killer weird subversive action movie, somewhat like what David O. Russel did with “Three Kings.” (Russell was actually one of the people at Meryl Streep’s dinner party.) If they’re going to screw with convention, I’d think it’d be more balls-y do it from within. Taking shots from the indie world is too easy.

Oh, and I thought Streep was great (big shock). She should do more comedy.

(I would like to see Human Nature, which is out on DVD, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, both written by Kaufman. The latter is a biopic, which is a conventional genre, but is so… weird that it fits with other works of his. Anyone seen either of those?)

Oh, and since Adaptation is released by Columbia Pictures, I guess it’s technically not an indie. Bah.

Oh, and one last thing that was odd about Adaptation, and I’m curious if it was like this anywhere else. It had no trailers or commercials before it. The theater I saw it at usually has at least 5-10 commercials (ugh), and at least five trailers.

With this movie, the lights went out, and the movie started.