2 comments on “Critical Argument Prompts: Adaptation and Film Narrative/Writing About Film

  1. Spike Jonze’s, Adaptation, focuses on the story of Charlie, played by Nicholas Cage, an introverted, struggling screenwriter who is trying to make a film adaptation of the novel, “The Orchid Thief” written by Meryl Streep’s character, Susan Orlean. A major theme in the movie focuses on Charlie’s internal battle with himself to break out of his shell and prove to everyone, including himself, that he can write an original screenplay, loyal to the art of scriptwriting, without having to resort to clichés. His attempts are immediately contrasted with those of his twin brother, who decides to take up scriptwriting just for the heck of it, and resorts to stylistically derivative storylines. Throughout the film Charlie’s brother, Donald, also played by Nicholas Cage, serves as a foil to Charlie. Donald is confident, outgoing, flirtatious and carefree, whereas Charlie is a self-loathing hypochondriac, who is threatened by Donald’s confidence, but views himself as mentally superior to him as well. When the audience is first introduced to Donald’s character he is lying on the ground with Charlie towering over him, this is true for most of the shots the two are in together, and puts Charlie in a position of power. The choice to have them both be twins is important because although they parallel each other in looks, their physical similarities only further draw attention to their contrasting personalities.

    The reading for this week focused heavily on narrative form, and it is skillfully portrayed in Adaptation’s non chronological structure. Adaptation’s scriptwriter Charlie Kauffman employs both flashbacks and flash-forwards throughout the film, which further adds to the audience’s confusion. Perhaps Kauffman wants the lack of clarity in the narrative to reflect the confusion and chaos in Charlie’s life; just as the audience is searching for the premise of this film, Charlie is searching for the answers he needs to write his perfect script and discover his passions. In this week’s reading it discusses the reorganization of events in a story to form a syuzhet and how the ordering of these events can ultimately “change a viewers perception of a character..”(69). Kauffman’s syuzhet of Adaptation’s fabula plays with the audience’s perception of each character, especially Meryl Streep. At one point in the film the audience watches a scene in which Orlean and Larouche travel through the jungle to find the infamous ghost orchid; they soon get lost and begin to argue. The scene ends with a close up of Orlean’s disappointed face and equally disappointed voiceover, therefore the audience assumes the pair was unsuccessful in their search. Later on during the turning point of the story, Kauffman flashes back to the scene of the two characters in the swamp only this time they have come face to face with the ghost orchid, this scene then leads into the explanation of Orlean’s drug abuse and their affair. This background detail successfully shifts the audience’s perspective of Orlean from a mild mannered New Yorker columnist to a drug addicted unfaithful wife.

    Throughout the entire film Charlie mocks the typical Hollywood approach to narrative film writing, therefore it is almost comical when he finds himself in the middle of the kind of down south sex filled thriller he “abhors” or that he abhorred at the beginning of the film. Charlie’s plot is not making a comment on selling out to Hollywood, instead it is representative of Charlie’s revelation. In the beginning of the film, the screen is blank, and filled with the diegetic voiceover of, the protagonist, Charlie’s internal monologue, which is filled with clichés. At one point he even refers to himself as a walking cliché, and it is clear that Charlie is disgusted by this fact. It is ironic because the film begins with a soul searching theme, which mirrors the type of film Charlie wants to create, later on at the turning point of the film, the genre shifts to a sex and drug filled thriller, which is representative of the films Donald writes. Throughout the entire film Charlie is obsessed with making a script that is unexpected and not cliché. It isn’t until the end of the film that the audience realizes that it was the element of drugs and sex that proves to be the unexpected twist, so it is interesting to see that challenged through Kauffman’s writing. At the beginning of the film the audience watched as Charlie lectured his brother about being unexpected and unoriginal for using sex and drugs in his story to make it more thrilling. The genre shift of the story reflects the shift in Charlie’s point of view, his revelation towards the “type of Hollywood plot he abhor[red]” at the beginning of the film, and his realization that his once believed “expected” type of Hollywood plot was the only way to end this film, unexpectedly.

  2. Charlie has sexual fantasies with the waitress from the coffee shop, and Susan. His imagination strays to narrate a different story than what is actually happening. It is not until the end of the movie that his fantasy of a girl becomes a reality. He finally tells Amelia he loves her. The watcher can barely believe his/her eyes. Is this actually happening? Or is Charlie imagining again? This blurred line makes the film a cohesive and compelling work of art because it astonishes the watcher on how much Charlie grows in the film as a person.

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