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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> February 2003 >> Adaptation.


Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
5 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
February 2003
IMDB Name:
Adaptation. (2002)
Spike Jonze
comedy, drama
MPAA Rating:
R for language, sexuality, some drug use and violent images.

This is the first heading of Scott's commentary on Adaptation

Back in my high school days, I was introduced to the concept of self-referential sentences. Douglas Hofstadter's book "Metamagical Themas" has several essays on the subject. Some of the sentences there are simple, like "This sentence has five words." Some are a bit more intense, cataloging their letter and punctuation counts. If you really want to have your mind blown by self- referentiality, you can either read David Moser's This Is The Title Of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times In The Story Itself, or you can watch Adaptation. I thought I knew precisely how strange director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman could be based on Being John Malkovich, but Adaptation surpasses even that. Imagine Being John Malkovich's complexity of premise combined with the non-linearity of Memento.

Kaufman has done a peculiar and delicious thing with Adaptation. The movie is about the adaptation of a book into a movie. We see the final movie usually before we see the writer writing it. The catch is that the writer has become part of the story. There is no distinction between the screenplay as we see it being created on screen and what we see on screen. Like Being John Malkovich, we get to seriously bend our ideas of identity while watching. Unlike Malkovich, there's no bizarre sci-fi twist to it, just a story about the telling of itself. Almost every aspect of the film is discussed in the film itself. In one particularly funny scene, a long voiceover narration is interrupted by a screenwriting teacher bellowing about voiceover narrations being "flaccid, sloppy writing". The Kaufmann character also has a brother, who is quite the alterego. There are scenes where I wondered if Adaptation was building to a Fight Club denouement. The movie toys with these thoughts by having the brother write a screenplay about a multiple-personality protagonist. PS: Stay until the end of the credits for a wonderful gem from that screenplay.

This heading would nominally like to tell you about the cast.

I can't think of a single bad casting decision for Adaptation. In a stunning display of putting the same person on screen more than once, there are dozens of shots that put two Nicolas Cages onscreen together. I know this kind of thing has been around for a long time, but the quantity here is astonishing. Cage plays twin brothers, and gives each of them nicely distinctive mannerisms such that it's usually easy to separate them despite the perfect appearance match. I'm sure some people will howl at this comparison, but I found this to be another demonstration of the talents Cage showcased in Face/Off. Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper are both good in the Orchid Theif plot arc. Cooper gets to play a bit of a goof, but he does so with utter conviction. Streep's character isn't as colorful, but she brings out an excellent range of emotions. I was delighted to see Maggie Gyllenhaal, who I've previous enjoyed in the trailer for Secretary. That's right, just the trailer.


When Donald and Charlie are in the car together, the car exhibits some strange behavior. Most cars make a noise when the driver's door has been opened and the key is still in the ignition. This car makes the same noise when the passenger's door is open and the key is still in the ignition. As Adaptation is not the most straightforward movie, I took this as one more piece of evidence for the "does Donald exist" argument.

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Copyright 2003 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.