1. Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief is a non-fiction book about John Laroche and his hunt for rare ghost orchids in Florida preserve. The book’s focus is on Laroche, and functions almost like a profile of him in his hunt for the orchids in a swamp in the preserve, with the help of a local Seminole tribe. Laroche, a plant dealer, is motivated in his attempt to find the orchids by profit, as he plans to clone them and sell them.
2. The film Adaptation follows Charlie Kaufman’s attempt to turn the book into a screenplay with the help of his (fictional) brother Donald. In the film, Kaufman struggles with writer’s block while trying to adapt the book into a film and eventually meets with Orlean to try and get some inspiration to write the film. From that meeting, a fictional narrative built for the film begins, one where Orlean and Laroche are in love and masterminding a scheme to turn the orchids into a psychoactive drug. The Kaufmans uncover the plot at the cost of Donald’s life, but the experience resolves Charlie’s issues–both his writer’s block and his personal ones.
3. Charlie Kaufman’s adaptation of the Orlean’s book isn’t a true adaptation, but like Tristram Shandy, is more about the adapting of the text into a film. The film is more about Kaufman struggling to turn the book into a film, rather than a profile of Orlean and Laroche. The film includes fictional, slightly depraved versions of Orlean and Laroche, who eventually become the film’s villains in the Hollywood-ized final act of the film, one where Kaufman uncovers a drug-dealing plot (wholly written for the film). That ending serves as almost a parody of the film industry.
This critique of the film called it the most “self-referential film since Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories.” The author said that just as Orlean intended to write a book about Laroche but ended up writing about herself, Kaufman intended to write a screenplay about Orlean but ended up writing about himself. In his critique the author called the book “unadaptable” because of its structure and because Kaufman wished not to Hollywoodize it, only for him to create a Hollywood-style, surreal second half of the film.
This article looks at the relationship between Charlie and Donald, comparing their relationship to the relationship of Orlean and Laroche in Orlean’s novel as the same thing.
This review called the film “the most original and bizarre adaptation in the history of adaptations,” pointing to the characters of Donald and Charlie being split personalities and the commentary on adaptations and writer’s block as reasons for the bizarre nature of the movie.
5. In Adaptation, Jonze and Kaufman are saying that some kinds of literary works may be impossible to film, but are the works that filmmakers should try to adapt. The film is a look at the process of turning an unfilmable book into a film, a process that was apparently wrought with bouts of writer’s block and a lack of faith in converting the text to film. Kaufman may have said he wanted to keep his adaptation devoid of the murder and violence normally seen in films in the film’s universe, but it was precisely the ending his film took on, likely as a tongue-in-cheek way to wrap up a film that would be impossible to adapt based on its source material. Kaufman likely recognized the structure of the story and its obsession with Laroche made for a compelling narrative on paper, but would be difficult to transition to the screen, so shooting a Hollywood-style ending to a film he didn’t want to Hollywood-ize was a way to parody the idea of an unfilmable film.