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Charlie Kaufman writes the way he lives... With Great Difficulty. His Twin Brother Donald Lives the way he writes... with foolish abandon. Susan writes about life... But can't live it. John's life is a book... Waiting to be adapted. One story... Four Lives... A million ways it can end.  

Year: 2002 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from Adaptation

Adaptation must surely be one of the most original films to emerge from Hollywood for some years.  Watching it is a pleasure, describing it is almost impossible and discovering it for yourself will come as a breath of fresh air.

Firstly and perhaps most importantly, Adaptation's own screenwriter Charlie Kaufman has turned himself into one of the film's central characters, played by Nicolas Cage.  Neurotic, obsessive and unstable, the cinematic Kaufman is struggling to adapt Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief into a film.  This film, however, refuses to be written and instead becomes the story of his inability to succeed - cue several knowing lines such as, 'I'm insane! I've written myself into my screenplay!'

Cage also plays Charlie's fictional twin brother Donald, depicting perfectly a relationship between the two which is uneasy, to say the least.  Donald contrasts with Charlie in almost every possible respect and without his presence, the Kaufman scenes would lack much of their frequent hilarity.

Meryl Streep plays the cause of Charlie Kaufman's frustration, writer Susan Orlean, with conviction and ease.  The largely self-contained narrative involving her relationship with the orchid-hunting subject of her problematic book, John Laroche (Chris Cooper) occasionally sits uncomfortably beside the manic energy of Nicolas Cage's performances.  However, this slight imbalance can be forgiven many times over in a film of such originality.  Self-referential in the extreme but never inaccessible, Kaufman the writer takes satirical swipes at numerous aspects of a writer's position in Hollywood.

While this isn't the best-structured film you will see this year, it comes alive through its content: moments of high comedy and deep irony, and refreshing, clever dialogue.  So the ending, I can assure you, will come as a surprise.  Superficially inappropriate, there has already been much discussion over this apparent bizarre departure from a previously successful formula.  It sees a unification of the film's two parallel storylines when Kaufman, Kaufman, Orlean and Laroche appear together in real time.  What is achieved in these final scenes remains a matter for debate, but suffice it to say they are well worth staying for just to make up your own mind.

Helen Carney

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Spring Term (35mm)