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Adaptation (film)

For other uses, see Adaptation (disambiguation).

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File:Adaptation. film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Spike Jonze
Produced by Jonathan Demme
Vincent Landay
Edward Saxon
Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman
Donald Kaufman
Based on The Orchid Thief 
by Susan Orlean
Starring Nicolas Cage
Meryl Streep
Chris Cooper
Cara Seymour
Tilda Swinton
Brian Cox
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Lance Acord
Edited by Eric Zumbrunnen
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • December 6, 2002 (2002-12-06)
Running time
114 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $19 million
Box office $32.8 million

Adaptation. is a 2002 American comedy-drama metafilm directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. The film is based on Susan Orlean's non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, with numerous self-referential events added. The film stars Nicolas Cage as Charlie and Donald Kaufman, and Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean, Chris Cooper as John Laroche, with Cara Seymour, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston and Maggie Gyllenhaal in supporting roles.

Though the film is billed as an adaptation of The Orchid Thief, its primary narrative focus is Charlie Kaufman's struggle to adapt The Orchid Thief into a film, while dramatizing the events of the book in parallel. Adaptation. also adds a number of fictitious elements, including Kaufman's twin brother (also credited as a writer for the film) and a romance between Orlean and Laroche, and culminates in completely invented events including fictional versions of Orlean and Laroche three years after the events related in The Orchid Thief, Kaufman and his fictional twin brother.

The film had been in development as far back as 1994. Jonathan Demme brought the project to Columbia Pictures with Kaufman writing the script. Kaufman went through writer's block and did not know what to think of The Orchid Thief. Finally he wrote a script based on his experience of adapting The Orchid Thief as a screenplay. Jonze signed to direct, and filming was finished in June 2001. Adaptation. achieved critical acclaim, and gained numerous awards at the 75th Academy Awards, 60th Golden Globe Awards and 56th British Academy Film Awards, especially for its writing and acting. Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while Kaufman won the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.


The self-loathing Charlie Kaufman is hired to write the screenplay for The Orchid Thief. Kaufman is going through depression and is not happy that his twin brother Donald has moved into his house and is mooching from him. Donald decides to become a screenwriter like Charlie and attends one of Robert McKee's famous seminars.

Charlie, who rejects formulaic script writing, wants to ensure that his script is a faithful adaptation of The Orchid Thief. However, he comes to realize that the book does not have a usable narrative and that it is impossible to turn into a film, leaving him with a serious case of writer's block. Already well over his deadline with Columbia Pictures, and despairing at writing his script with self-reference, Charlie travels to New York to discuss the screenplay with Orlean directly. Unable to face her and with the surprising news that Donald's spec script for a clichéd psychological thriller, called The 3, is selling for six or seven figures, Kaufman resorts to attending McKee's seminar in New York and asks him for advice. Charlie ends up asking his brother Donald to join him in New York to assist with the story structure.

Donald pretends to be Charlie and interviews Orlean, but is suspicious of her account of the events of her book because she acts as though she is lying. He and his brother Charlie follow Orlean to Florida where she meets Laroche, the orchid-stealing protagonist of Orlean's book and her secret lover. It is revealed that the Seminole wanted the ghost orchid in order to manufacture a drug that causes fascination; Laroche introduces this drug to Orlean. After Laroche and Orlean catch Charlie observing them taking the drug and having sex, she decides that Charlie must die.

She forces Kaufman at gunpoint to drive to the swamp, where she intends to kill him. Charlie and Donald escape and hide in the swamp where they resolve their differences and Charlie's problems with women. Laroche accidentally shoots Donald. Fleeing, Charlie and Donald drive off but crash into a ranger's truck; Donald dies in the accident. Charlie runs off into the swamp to hide but is spotted by Laroche. However, Laroche is killed by an alligator before being able to kill Charlie.

Orlean is arrested. Charlie makes up with his mother, tells his former love interest Amelia that he is still in love with her, and finishes the script. It ends with Charlie in a voice-over announcing the script is finished and that he wants Gérard Depardieu to portray him in the film.


Nicolas Cage portrays Charlie and Donald Kaufman through split screen photography.

Tom Hanks was originally set for the double role of Charlie and Donald Kaufman. Variety reviewed the film as if Donald were a real person.[1] Cage took the role for a $5 million salary,[2] and wore a fatsuit during filming.[3]

Streep expressed strong interest in the role of Susan Orlean before being cast,[2] and took a salary cut in recognition of the film's budget.[4] John Turturro was approached to portray John Laroche.[5] Cooper strongly considered turning down Laroche, but accepted it after his wife urged him to.[6] Albert Finney, Christopher Plummer, Terence Stamp and Michael Caine were considered for the role of Robert McKee, but McKee personally suggested Brian Cox to filmmakers.[7]

Litefoot and Jay Tavare have small roles as Seminole. John Cusack, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, Lance Acord and Spike Jonze have uncredited cameos as themselves in scenes where Charlie Kaufman is on the set of Being John Malkovich, which he also wrote. Additional cameos include Doug Jones as Augustus Margary, director Curtis Hanson as Orlean's husband, and David O. Russell as a New Yorker journalist.


"The emotions that Charlie is going through [in the film] are real and they reflect what I was going through when I was trying to write the script. Of course there are specific things that have been exaggerated or changed for cinematic purposes. Part of the experience of watching this movie is the experience of seeing that Donald Kaufman is credited as the co-screenwriter. It's part of the movie, it's part of the story."

—Charlie Kaufman on writing the script[8]

The idea to do a film adaptation of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief dates back to 1994.[9] Fox 2000 purchased the film rights in 1997,[10] eventually selling them to Jonathan Demme, who set the project at Columbia Pictures. Charlie Kaufman was hired to write the script, but struggled with the adaptation and writer's block.[11] Kaufman eventually created a script of his experience in adaptation, exaggerating events, and creating a fictional brother named Donald Kaufman. Kaufman put Donald Kaufman's name on the script and dedicated the film to the fictional character.[12] By September 1999, Kaufman had written two drafts of the script;[13] he turned in a third draft in November 2000.[14]

Kaufman explained,
The idea of how to write the film didn't come to me until quite late. It was the only idea I had, I liked it, and I knew there was no way it would be approved if I pitched it. So I just wrote it and never told the people I was writing it for. I only told Spike Jonze, as we were making John Malkovich and he saw how frustrated I was. Had he said I was crazy, I don't know what I would have done.[15]
In addition Kaufman stated, "I really thought I was ending my career by turning that in!"[16]


Adaptation went on fast track in April 2000, with Kaufman making some revisions.[1] Scott Brake of IGN gave the script a positive review in June 2000,[17] as did Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny of Ain't It Cool News in October.[18] Columbia Pictures committed to North America distribution only after Intermedia came aboard to finance the film in exchange for international distribution rights.[19] Filming started in late March 2001 in Los Angeles, and finished by June.[5] The "evolution" fantasy sequence was created by Digital Domain, while Skywalker Sound was responsible for the audio mixing of Adaptation.


Columbia Pictures had at one point announced a late 2001 theatrical release date.[5] Adaptation opened on December 6, 2002 in the United States for a limited release. The film was released nationwide on February 14, 2003, earning $1,130,480 in its opening weekend in 672 theaters. Adaptation. went on to gross $22.5 million in North America and $10.3 million in foreign countries, coming at a total of $32.8 million.[20]

Home media

Adaptation was released on DVD by Umbrella Entertainment in September 2012. The DVD is compatible with region code 4 and includes special features such as the behind the scenes featurette titled How To Shoot In A Swamp and talent profiles.[21]


Critical response

Based on 197 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, Adaptation. received a 91% overall approval rating.[22] Metacritic scored the film 83 based on 40 reviews.[23]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times believed the film was something "That leaves you breathless with curiosity, as it teases itself with the directions it might take. To watch the film is to be actively involved in the challenge of its creation."[24] He later added the film to his "Great Movies" collection.[25] At the end of 2009, Ebert named the film one of the best of the decade. Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe thought "This is epic, funny, tragic, demanding, strange, original, boldly sincere filmmaking. And the climax, the portion that either sinks the entire movie or self-critically explains how so many others derail, is bananas."[26] David Ansen of Newsweek felt Meryl Streep had not "been this much fun to watch in years",[27] while Mike Clark of USA Today gave a largely negative review, mainly criticizing the ending: "Too smart to ignore but a little too smugly superior to like, this could be a movie that ends up slapping its target audience in the face by shooting itself in the foot."[28]


Chris Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while Nicolas Cage (Actor in a Leading Role) and Streep (Supporting Actress) were nominated. Charlie and Donald Kaufman were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Cooper and Streep won their respective categories at the 60th Golden Globe Awards. Spike Jonze, Cage and Kaufman were nominated for awards while Adaptation was nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.[29] Cage, Cooper and Streep received nominations at the 56th British Academy Film Awards, with Kaufman winning Best Adapted Screenplay.[30] The film was also nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.[31]

See also


  1. ^ a b Michael Fleming (April 6, 2000). "Brothers in a Conundrum; Rat Pack lives". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b Claude Brodesser; Charles Lyons; Dana Harris (August 23, 2000). "Cage has Adaptation. inclination". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  3. ^ Stax (May 3, 2001). "Hey, Fatboy!". IGN. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  4. ^ Claude Brodesser (September 6, 2000). "Streep eyes Adaptation.". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  5. ^ a b c Greg Dean Schmitz. "Greg's Preview — Adaptation.". Yahoo!. Archived from the original on May 18, 2007. Retrieved April 13, 2008. 
  6. ^ Claude Brodesser; Jill Tiernan; Geoffrey Berkshire (March 23, 2003). "Backstage notes". Variety. Retrieved April 8, 2008. 
  7. ^ Lynn Smith (November 3, 2002). "Being Robert McKee, both on screen and off". Los Angeles Times. 
  8. ^ Spence D (5 December 2002). "Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman Discuss Adaptation". IGN. Retrieved 5 April 2008. 
  9. ^ Bill Desowittz (August 18, 2002). "Development players make personal choices". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  10. ^ Oliver Jones (December 17, 1999). "Cruise in tune with Shaggs project". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  11. ^ Jonathan Bing (February 26, 2001). "Lit properties are still hottest tickets". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  12. ^ Claude Brodesser (November 10, 1999). "Scribe revisiting reality". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  13. ^ Charlie Kaufman (September 24, 1999). "Adaptation.: Second Draft" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 7, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2008. 
  14. ^ Charlie Kaufman (November 21, 2000). "Adaptation.: Revised Draft" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 7, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2008. 
  15. ^ Michael Fleming (November 14, 2002). "What will follow film success for Eminem?". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  16. ^ Stax (March 13, 2002). "Charles Kaufman Talks Shop". IGN. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  17. ^ Scott Brake (June 8, 2000). "Script Review of Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation". IGN. Retrieved April 8, 2008. 
  18. ^ Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny (October 10, 2000). "Moriarty Rumbles About Adaptation, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Catch Me If You Can!". Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved April 17, 2008. 
  19. ^ Charles Lyons (June 18, 2001). "Helmers let out a rebel yell". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008. 
  20. ^ "Adaptation. (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 8, 2008. 
  21. ^ "Umbrella Entertainment". Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  22. ^ Rotten Tomatoes. Adaptation (2002). Retrieved on: 2012-11-12
  23. ^ "Adaptation. (2002): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved April 8, 2008. 
  24. ^ Roger Ebert (December 20, 2002). "Adaptation". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 11, 2008. 
  25. ^ Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" essay about Adaptation.
  26. ^ Wesley Morris (December 20, 2002). "A revolutionary look at the evolution of creativity". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 11, 2008. 
  27. ^ David Ansen (December 9, 2002). "Meta-Movie Madness". Newsweek. Retrieved April 12, 2008. 
  28. ^ Mike Clark (December 5, 2002). "Cage's Adaptation? Sorry, Charlie". USA Today. Retrieved April 12, 2008. 
  29. ^ "Golden Globes: 2003". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved April 12, 2008. 
  30. ^ "BAFTA Awards: 2003". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved April 12, 2008. 
  31. ^ Pluijgers, Jean-François (January 12, 2004). "L'UCC s'offre une cure de "Gioventu"". La Libre Belgique (in French). Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  32. ^ The Village Voice: "No Exit: Hell Is Other People" By Dennis Lim, April 29, 2003.
  33. ^ "The Worst January Film Releases of Recent Memory" By Jason Bailey, The Atlantic, Jan 4, 2012.

External links

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