The Art of Adaptation

Why am I here? How did I get here?
(Kaufman, 3)

There is grandeur in this view of life,
with its several powers, having been originally
breathed into a few forms or into one; and
that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on
according to the fixed law of gravity, from so
simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most
wonderful have been, and
are being, evolved.
(Darwin, 490)

Mutation is the answer to everything.
(Orlean, 17)

Adaptation has run amok.
(Hutcheon, XI)

We, human beings, have been adapting since the dawn of time. We’ve adapted to live in the most diverse ecosystems and under the most different social-political regimes. There are humans who live in the scalding heat of the Sahara desert and in the paralyzing cold of the Antarctic region. There are humans who survive in the midst of the sprawling Amazon jungle and between the towering cement jungle of Manhattan. There are humans who have endured unimaginable hatred and who have thrived against insurmountable challenges. We, as a species, are all about evolving, changing and adapting. If there’s one art we’ve collectively mastered, is the art of adaptation.

In this article, that is what I want to discuss: the problematic, gigantic, complicated and often difficult-to-grasp art of adaptation. I elected the movie Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002) and the novel that serves as its origin and inspiration, The Orchid Thief (Susan Orlean), as my case study, and while most of what I’ll talk about springs from an analysis of these two works of art, the goal of this paper is to shed more light in what it means to adapt in general. Of course, adaptation can be applied to so many different things that just asking that question becomes complicated. First, I am required to explain what I mean by adaptation, and how those definitions play out in my case study and my overall discussion.

In keeping with the botanic motif of the book and the movie, I look at adaptation as a tree. At its core and roots, we have the same principles. To adapt means to adjust, to change. Change is at the trunk of the tree that is adaptation. Things like Adaptation., the movie, are at the leaves. And then we have the branches. Of course that the branches are many, almost too many to count. What this analogy does is allow us to look at adaptation without necessary having to qualify any specific kind of adaptation as a restricted and disassociated process.

There are two main kinds of adaptation that are important to me. The first one is biological adaptation. If I can move from Rio de Janeiro, one of the most tropical climates in the world, and survive the New England winters in Massachusetts, that’s because of biological adaptation, because of this ability we all have, as humans, to adjust to new places, climates, and cultures. If orchids have evolved in such precise ways so that they can attract the exact particular insect responsible for its pollination, that’s because of biological adaptation, and because orchids are among nature’s most adaptable species, because they have evolved so specifically that they are in complete sync with their environment. Biological adaptation is everywhere in The Orchid Thief, and, consequently, in Adaptation. It’s a pervasive theme that can be felt in Orlean’s descriptions of Florida, in her stories of the natives, in her self-discovering journey, in her mute passion for John Laroche, in her discoveries of orchids. It’s also present in the movie, in the journey of change that Kaufman, the character, goes through, and in the way the movie allows us to see all of the elements previously noted about the book.

The second kind of adaptation pertinent to me here is what I have come to call mediatic adaptation, that is, the adaptation that occurs between different media. Media are, essentially, middles (the word medium comes from the Latin medius, which literally means middle). A medium is a technological middle between a certain agent and its audience, and through which this agent gets his message across to the audience. In our case, this agent is most often a storyteller, be it a writer or director or screenwriter, and the message is a kind of story that this storyteller wants to convey to us, the audience. Therefore, mediatic adaptation is the attempt to convey the same message (tell the same story) through different media, usually by a different agent, to an audience that may or may not be the same. However, as I will explore later in the article, a shift in medium directly impacts the message being conveyed, the way the agent reflects on this message, and the way the audience apprehends it.

Having briefly introduced these two kinds of adaptation, I set out to better comprehend how they play out in the book and in the movie, ultimately trying to better define the process of mediatic adaptation, and how biological adaptation is always informing the ways in which we adapt media products. Though they are separate kinds of adaptation, and though I can only try to study how mediatic adaptation works (since biological adaptation escapes my abilities), they are still part of that same one tree. I won’t be able to flesh out a definition for that tree as a whole, but I can certainly try to look at some of the branches, specially the one that is pertinent to my field of studies, and that is the adaptation between media.

Biological Adaptation

Sometimes this kind of story turns out to be
something more, some glimpse of life that
expands like those Japanese paper balls you
drop in water and then after a moment they
bloom into flowers, and the flower is so
marvelous that you can’t believe that there
was a time when all you saw in front of you
was a paper ball and a glass of water.
(Orlean, 7)

The Orchid Thief, is, unmistakably, a book about orchids. But it is not a botanical book, or a book about pollination, hybridization, the politics of growing orchids or the dangers of collecting them (though it talks about all these things). Like the Japanse paper balls Orleans alludes to, it is about so much more. First of all, it is a journalistic book. Susan Orlean is a staff writer for The New Yorker, and much of the work that is printed in The Orchid Thief originated at the magazine. It tells many stories, but it is kind of structured around the character of John Laroche, a white man arrested for stealing endangered orchids from a reservation in Florida. While Orlean discovers his personal story, she constructs her own personal story of discovery. She talks about orchids, about the native people of Florida and their history, about the people whose lives are completely taken over by orchids, about Florida itself, and, mainly, about the overwhelming pursuit for something to be passionate about. Encompassing all of these stories is the constant need or want to adapt.

The movie Adaptation. is also surrounded by this overarching theme of the pursuit of passion, and the drive towards change. Kaufman begins the movie with the voice-over of a character so completely unsure of himself that he immediately wins over the audience. His lack of confidence is our way in, and then our way through a complicated story in which we watch Charlie Kaufman, successful screenwriter, struggle to bring to life Susan Orlean’s work and to find his footing in life. One hour into the movie, he writes himself into the adaptation of The Orchid Thief, therefore complicating the discussion of adaptation by turning the experience into a meta-linguistic one. The movie also suffers a major change when, after talking to a fictional Robert Mckee (in real life and in the movie, a successful screenwriting guru), the story goes into completely fictional terrain, unveiling a romance between Orlean and Laroche that is surrounded by drugs and sex. When, towards the end of the movie, Kaufman catches the two having sex in the middle of a greenhouse that is also a drug lab, Laroche and Orlean take him into the swamp to execute him, their plan hampered by the appearance of Kaufman’s (fictional) twin brother Donald. The movie can therefore be divided into three clear acts: the first one that goes up to the moment when Kaufman writes himself into the movie, the second one that goes up to the talk Kaufman has with Robert Mckee, and the third one where all that is seen is not based in The Orchid Thief anymore, but is completely fictional.

It is important to notice that the theme of adaptation is pertinent to these works of art without the need to regard them in combination to each other. Even if The Orchid Thief had never been made into a movie or if Adaptation. had not been adapted from a book, there would still be plenty to talk about when it comes to adaptation in both these works. In the movie and the book everything and everyone is always adapting. Laroche is constantly trying to adapt; the book (and the movie) is filled with stories of his many attempts to become a collector, and how he suddenly gives up on one particular collection and moves on to something else. His capacity to just let go of things and find new passions, his mutability, one could say, greatly impresses Orlean:

As much as I marveled at Laroche’s devotion to the things he was devoted to, I marveled even more at his capacity for detachment. […] I personally have always found giving up on something a thousand times harder than getting it started, but evidently Laroche’s finishes were downright and absolute, and what’s more, he also shut off any chance of amends. (Orlean, 224-245)

To Laroche, adaptation has everything to do with erasing memory, with letting go without a trace. At the end of the book, he renounces orchids, prompting Orlean to write the above, because, as he claims, ‘I can’t stand working with things that die on you all the time’ (Orlean, 226). In the movie, Kauffman brings Laroche’s fear of things that die to a new level by killing Laroche on a swamp, attacked by an alligator. In the book, he seems to be a character that is always going around in circles, never finding true meaning to a life surrounded by tragedies. In the movie, when he finds meaning in the arms of a fictional Susan Orlean, that new life too is brought to a definite end. His attempts at adaptation in real life might not have brought him any closer to finding himself, but in the movie, through Kaufman’s artistic intrusion, his attempt at adaptation costs him his life.

Susan Orlean, both the writer and the character, also pays a price for undergoing adaptation. In the book, at first we are presented to a narrator (the book is told in first person, from Orlean’s perspective) who is a journalist trying to find out more about a particularly interesting case of orchid theft. However, as the pages are turned, everything changes, and the narrative becomes more and more about herself, prompting Orlean the journalist to adapt to this new role of being the subject of her own story. As she investigates the maddening passion of others for orchids, and the maddening character of John Laroche, she starts to question her own position in the universe, and doing that is her experience of adaptation, which is made possible by the journey of writing:

I wanted to want something as much as people wanted these plants, but it isn’t part of my constitution. […] I suppose I do have one unembarassing passion – I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately. (Orlean, 41)

The honesty with which Orlean constructs these sentences make us feel as though we are being told a secret that is as exposing as it is truthful. It made sense that in the movie we get to hear these exact sentences in a hushed voice-over, as we watch the character of Susan Orlean at a dinner party and then lying in bed at night by her husband side with an expression of someone who is harvesting deep secrets she wouldn’t dare tell anyone. Therefore, both in the book and in the movie, we get to see a character slowly unveiling herself as she adapts to this new role of someone being exposed (as opposed to someone who exposes). And in the movie’s third act, we get to see an Orlean that is then completely mutated, and though she is addicted to drugs and her behavior is a bit out-of-bounds, she has found something she is passionate about, and that is Laroche.

None of the third act is in the book and it is all fictional, as I’ve said before. But it is impossible not to notice how all of these roads Kaufman takes at the end of the movie can be constructed as his artistic interpretations of the book. Though Orlean never expresses any romantic attraction for Laroche in the book, there seems to be an undeniable attraction.

I was developing mixed feeling about spending time with Laroche. […] I am the sort of person that finds his sort of person engaging. […] I didn’t care all that much whether he said was true or not; I just found the flow irresistible. (Orlean, 29)

She also compares orchids to heroin (Orlean, 279) and talks plenty about how sexual plants orchids are (Orlean, 51). Or course none of this can be accurately constructed into the third act of the movie, but artistic interpretation allows the adapter ownership of the material he writes with no preoccupation with fidelity to the original. Or, better yet, as Dudley Andrew puts it in Concepts in Film Theory, the most important thing is fidelity to the spirit, ‘to the original’s tone, values, imagery and rhythm, since finding stylistic equivalents in film for these intangible aspects is the opposite of a mechanical process’ (376). In creating a third act where he can bring forth so many issues explored in the book and give them his own voice, Kaufman exemplifies what it means to adapt.

Which brings us to the character of Charlie Kaufman, who also goes through a process of adaptation in the movie. First it is important to try to understand why Charlie Kaufman is a character in his own movie. Kaufman has explained that the reason why he included himself in the movie was an attempt to keep the experience an interactive one, where the audience is forced to see things differently (Kaufman, 129). In my opinion, writing himself in the movie was the way he discovered to allow himself freedom to interpret and recreate Orlean’s book. Robert McKee, in a critical commentary included in the shooting script of Adaptation., says it better than I ever could.

She [Susan Orlean] dramatizes the invisible, the tides and times of inner conflict. But you can’t drive a camera lens through an actor’s forehead and photograph thought, although there are directors who would try. So The Orchid Thief could not be adapted; it had to be reinvented. But as what? Taking a cue from Orlean, Kaufman decided to layers his self-inquisition over her self-inquisition. (McKee in Kaufman, 133)

Orlean includes herself in the story she is telling, and so does Kaufman. And his character even gains a fictional twin brother, Donald Kaufman, who becomes a screenwriter during the movie and writes a commercially successful thriller titled The 3 in which detective, serial killer and victim are all the same person with multiple personality disorder. Donald Kaufman is Charlie’s alter ego, he represents all the things Charlie struggles against becoming. He is successful because he is not afraid of being commercial, he is confident and does well with woman while Charlie is constantly left in the realm of masturbation, and he is outspoken and unafraid of love. As Charlie adapts, he slowly incorporates all of those things. In the end, Adaptation has car chases, sex, drugs, people overcoming obstacles, learning and changing, everything that Charlie was against in the beginning. Charlie also learns to overcome his fear of relationships and opens up to the woman he loves. Of course, in the end, Donald dies, because he has too. As Charlie adapts, he no longer needs this externalized alter ego given that he mutates into a whole being, now capable of existing on his own.

And then we have the orchids and Florida. These two extremely important components of the story that Orlean and Kaufman tell, and that are present in both the book and the movie. They serve as great analogies for adaptation. If both the book and the movie are so fluent in the theme of adaptation, then that’s all because of orchids. They are the ultimate botanic examples of adaptation.

They are ancient, intricate living things that have adapted to every environment on earth. They have outlived dinosaurs; they might outlive humans. They can be hybridized, mutated, crossbred, and cloned. They are at once architectural and fanciful and though and dainty, a jewel of a flower on a haystack of a plant. (Orlean, 53)

It seems to be almost an impossible coincidence that Orlean’s story is set in Florida, as place she describes as ‘essentially featureless and infinitely transformable’ (Orlean, 123). If all of the characters of the book and movie seem to be looking for, going through or suffering from adaptation, than that all comes from their relationship with orchids and their being in Florida. The place and the plant represent the theme that is pervasive to the story being told by Orlean and then by Kaufman. However, if they are such important aspects of the story, how can they be dramatized and brought to life on the screen?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a book such as The Orchid Thief, which is replete with lengthy, detailed and highly repetitious verbal descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of flora and fauna, is bound to be visually upstaged by a film that can show an orchid bloom in slow motion. (Tomasulo, 174)

That brings us to the a discussion of the particularities of mediatic adaptation, which presents us with a whole set of new challenges on how to transform something that is imminently literary into an experience that is filmic and yet holds true to the spirit of the original. The expansion of the biological (human) adaptation from the book into the film (which I’ve discussed thus far) is of great importance to the mediatic adaptation of The Orchid Thief, but in this next part I plan to focus more diligently on the process of adapting from literature to screen, and bring forward some examples from this particular case study.

Mediatic Adaptation

Writing is a journey into the unknown.
(Kaufman, 12)

I was starting to believe that the reason it
matters to care passionately about something
is that it whittles the world down to a more
manageable size. It makes the world seem not
huge and empty but full of possibility.
(Orlean, 109)

When writing, an artist always faces the emptiness of something that is huge, unknown and scary. An adapter is not freed from this fear or anguish simply because he is adapting from something that already exists. A mediocre adapter might hide behind his position in order to escape the necessity of finding the thing that moves him in order to create. But just as Orlean points out in the quote above, finding the thing we care passionately about helps us to bring things down to a more manageable size. An adapter is someone who has to find in his work of origin the thing that makes him or her passionate and then create from there. Not copy, but interpret and then create. His quest is the quest of any writer or artist, but with some particularities.

Andre Bazin said that (mediatic) adaptation is ‘equivalence in the meaning of the forms’ (20). John Laroche talks about how adapting orchids makes him feel like God (Orlean, 17). To Linda Hutcheon, mediatic adaptation is ‘an announced and extensive transposition of a particular work or works’ (Hutcheon, 7). She also compares it to translations, saying that they are ‘intersemiotic transpositions from one sign system (for example, words) to another (for example, images)’ (Hutcheon, 16). Susan Orlean herself talks about having her book adapted as similar to the process of putting a child up for adoption (Orlean in Kaufman, VII), and Frank P. Tomasulo, in an article about Adaptation., says that ‘to adapt (in both he cinematic and biological senses of the term) is to change’ (176).

Earlier in my paper, I presented mediatic adaptation as an attempt at conveying the same message through different media, normally by a different agent and to an audience that may or may not be the same. Pair this with the above quotes and mediatic adaptation sounds simple enough, but if we look at all the variables present in the equation, we realize it isn’t so, for the shift in medium affects all of the portions of the equation. First, let’s talk about the agent. When an adapter appropriates a book to turn it into a movie, he first needs to read it, and there is no reading without interpretation. Hutcheon says that “adapters are first interpreters and then creators” (18). That is the dilemma that Kaufman faces in the beginning of Adaptation. He states he believes the book is great (Kaufman, 4), and he is determined to remain true to the spirit of the book. What we watch in Adaptation. is an artist struggling to cope with his own interpretation of the material he is supposed to adapt. If the movie takes a different turn towards the end it is because Kaufman finally comes to the understanding that this is his work, allowing himself to create, but a creation that he firmly bases on his initial interpretation of Orlean’s work.

Therefore, the change of agent in the equation of adaptation already implies a change in the message. And since audiences will also interpret the material, therefore adapting the adaption, adapters must bear in mind the scope of the audience at which his work is aimed, particularly since most adaptations work within a production system that values profit and economic gain, therefor privileging works that already have a solid fan base.

There is an obvious financial appeal to adaptation as well. […] Italian composers of that notoriously expensive art form, opera, usually chose to adapt reliable – that is, already financially successful – stage plays or novels in order to avoid financial risks. […] However, it is not simply a matter of risk-avoidance; there is money to be made. A best-selling book may reach a million readers; a successful Broadway play will be seen by 1 to 8 million people; but a movie or television adaptation will find an audience of many million more. (Hutcheon, 5)

Adaptations are, usually, less of a risk since they already have a fan base and a brand, and therefore are more easily marketed and can make more money. In fact, a quick Wikipedia search already informs us that the only box-office champion of the past 10 years that was not an adaptation or a sequel was James Cameron’s Avatar, released in 2009. Adaptations are more successful, and as Hutcheon shows us, 85% of all Oscar-winning Best Pictures are adaptations, as are 95% of all miniseries that win at the Emmys (Hutcheon, 4). These numbers show us how important that part of the equation (the audience) is to mediatic adaptation.

And it’s interesting to look at how this whole notion of commercial influences plays out in the movie and in the book. The orchid industry as presented by Orlean in The Orchid Thief works almost as a perfect analogy for the Hollywood system.

It was a matter of shaping evolution, because plants that win in shows become popular, and other breeders will use them as parents for new hybrids and as a model for the kind of plant they will try to produce on their own. (Orlean, 260)

This system in which a financial successful product dictates the market is very similar to the way Hollywood operates. Also, it is interesting to observe how the movie itself takes a more commercial turn at the end. At the very beginning, Kaufman points out his intention in making a movie about flowers, where nothing much happens. He confronts Robert McKee about it when he attends one of the guru’s seminars. Ultimately, however, taking a cue from McKee and from his brother’s thriller (The 3, which is bought by a producing company for loads of money), he turns the movie into something marketable, with sex, drugs, car chases and characters learning and changing. In doing that, he concomitantly adheres to the Hollywood clichés that he despised at the same time that he ironically makes fun of them. The movie becomes commercial at the same time it retains its artistic purity and originality.

But to this paper, the most pertinent discussion is the one that relates to the message. The message of a book or movie is not simply the story it tells, but also the values it carries, the emotions it produces, the tone it has. All of those things, many almost too intangible to discuss, are, in conjunction with the actual narrative, the message. And if mediatic adaptation is, again, an attempt at conveying the same message through different media, normally by a different agent and to an audience that may or may not be the same, then what happens if we bring to the discussion Marshal McLuhan’s idea that “the medium is the message”? In his famous book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964, McLuhan proposes that the focus of communication studies should not be on the message, but on the medium, since, according to him, the medium greatly influences the message. Tom Gunning also says that ‘story can be studied without regard to the medium, linguistic or otherwise’, however, ‘narrative discourse (because it exists in actual text) cannot be divorced from its specific medium’ (393).

What all of this tells us is that a shift in medium has tremendous influence over the message, or the narrative discourse, of the new product. The same story told in a book will have to change in order to survive in the medium of cinema, a medium with its own language. Dudley Andrew poses this as the greatest challenge of an adapter, ‘how is it possible to transform the signifiers of one material (verbal) to the signifiers of another material (images and sounds)?’ (Andrew, 376). Message, or narrative discourse, in movies and literature can be perceived according to its inclusion in the one or both of two spheres: mimesis and diegesis. Because literature is exclusively diegetic (though one could argue it has mimetic dimensions) and cinema is both diegetic and mimetic, the narrative discourse in both mediums cannot possibly be the same. Movies work outside in, literature works inside out. Movies focus on the physical, while novels focus on the psychological. Movies show in order to tell, and literature tells in order to show.

If in the book Orlean spends pages describing orchids, how they are and relate to the insects that pollinate them, the movie is able to do so in a scene that lasts about one minute in which we are shown the orchids and the insects and the pollination. This is possible because of cinema’s “inherent photographic tendency toward mimesis, toward the representation of a world from which the filmic narrator can seem to be absent” (Gunning, 394). Movie’s photographic capacity for mimesis makes the topic of orchids one exciting to explore cinematographically, since orchids can then be shown, instead of described. However, though mimesis is great for the exploration of biological nature, it can complicate, though not prevent, explorations of human conflict.

The Orchid Thief is able to tell us so much about the feelings and psychological conflict of its characters in a few sentences, and in the movie those feelings and conflicts need to be fleshed out in long sequences or with the use of voice-over. If those things can simply be told in the book, in the movie they need to be shown, and how do you show a character grappling with its pursuit for passion or its reluctance to adapt? Voice-overs are highly diegetic, but they can be included in the mimesis. In Adaptation, the voice-over is split between the three main characters (Orlean, Laroche and Kaufman), but they work differently. Orlean’s voice-overs are normally direct quotes from The Orchid Thief used in moments when the character is showed in deep introversion. Laroche’s voice-overs are very few and far between and normally spring from dialogue in the movie and are used to illustrate something that relates to orchids. Kaufman’s voice-over is the most pervasive one, and it is the first thing we hear when the movie begins and the last thing we hear when it ends. Because he is the true main character of the movie, that makes sense. His voice-over is so brutally honest (“All I do is sit on my fat ass. If my ass wasn’t fat, I would be happier”; “She looked at my hairline, she things I’m bald”) that it disarms the audience, creating empathy with a character that is at times grumpy and rude and mostly incapable of relating to anyone else. All three voice-overs are within the diegesis, since they come from characters in the movies, and their use is always justified, given that what they illustrate are things that could not be done visually, like Kaufman’s great lack of confidence or Orlean’s lack of orientation. For that reason, though a cinematic device, voice-over is still very literary. Kaufman himself jokes about the use of voice-over through the presence of a fictional Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox), who, during a presentation of a screenwriting seminar attended by Charlie Kaufman, says the following (interrupting the voice-over of Charlie):

…and God help you if you use voice over in your work, my friends! […] God help you! It’s flaccid, sloppy writing! Any idiot can write voice over narration to explain the thoughts of the character. (Kaufman, 68)

The interesting thing is that though Kaufman makes extensive use of voice-over, he leaves plenty to be brought to life by the actors and the audience’s interpretation. Like the increasing romance between Orlean and Laroche, most of which is never presented in voice-over but rather through Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper’s performances. This brings to mind an important aspect of the shift between literature and cinema. While literature is solitary work, done pretty much individually, cinema is a collective art form, and though screenwriter and director have most of the control over the final product, cast and crew are also part of the adaptation process since they adapt from the script and from the original as they play their parts in the production of the movie.

This happens almost in the same way in which Orlean herself adapted from reality in order to create her own work. Though a journalist, and therefore connected to facts, The Orchid Thief is still a work of art that springs from a certain creator’s interpretation of the events and the way she decides to tell them. In the same way that Orlean adapts from reality to create The Orchid Thief, so does Kaufman adapts from her work and his experience to create the script for Adaptation., and so does Spike Jonze and the entire cast and crew of the movie adapts from the script in order to create the final product, the movie Adaptation. As Dudley Andrew writes that ‘no filmmaker and no film responds immediately to reality itself, or to its own inner vision’ (373). That is the nature of the shift of mediums. When there is an attempt at conveying the same message in a different medium, and when that change is between literature and cinema, then that message immediately becomes something else, something that is interpreted by dozens of people and is reshaped and reimagined to fit into the new language of cinema. As McLuhan said, the medium is the message, and the challenge is making sure that in a new medium, and undergoing the many changes necessary in that shift, the integrity of the original remains intact.

Conclusion

After all, is Adaptation a movie about orchids? It might as well be, since it is a movie about what orchids represent: chaos and evolution, sensuality and danger, beauty and passion, immensity and mutation. What I learned in the process of studying this specific case is that adaptation is too large a thing for me to try and behold at once. Instead, we need to carve out some meaning slowly as we move along, travelling carefully but obstinately like the crazy orchid hunters fighting the forest in the search of these rare, dangerous plants.

Therefore, I bring forward the analogy of the tree once again, since it is fitting on so many levels. Adaptation is a living thing that keeps changing even if at times it seems to be still and stately. It has many branches and they all inform each other, they are all part of the same thing. In this paper, I came to the conclusion that biological and mediatic adaptation present in the process of turning The Orchid Thief into a movie are intrinsic to each other. In order to tell Orlean’s story in a different medium, Kaufman had to rethink not only the mediums with which he dealt but also his own nature, and the human nature of his characters.

That is, in itself, adaptation, a process we all must go through in order to create. The adapter must be aware of the mediums with which he deals, and understand them completely in order to fluently translate something from literature to cinema. He must also be aware of his new audience, what they might want or expect from his product. But most importantly, he needs to be self-aware, and place himself deep inside the process of adaptation. That is what Kaufman did, though he took it to the extreme by actually implanting himself in his adaptation, but in doing that he taught us a great lesson: there is no impartiality in art, and in order to create something an adapter needs to think of himself as an artist first and foremost, and an artist who owes allegiance to nothing else but his work and his integrity, even if he has to challenge that integrity in order to achieve it. Adapters need to be connoisseurs in the media between which they travel, they need to understand how literature works and how cinema works and how to efficiently transpose meaning from one medium to the other. But ultimately, they need to understand that adaptation is more than a mechanical process. It is, truly, art.

Bibliography

  • Adaptation.. Dir. Spike Jonze. Perf. Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton. Columbia Tristar Home Video. 2003. DVD.
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  • BAZIN, André. “Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest.” Film Adaptation. Ed. James Naremore. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000.
  • BENJAMIN, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1968.
  • FOUCAULT, Michel. Language, counter-memory, practice. New York, Cornell University Press, 1977.
  • GUNNING, Tom. “Theory and History: Narrative Discourse and the Narrative System.” Film Theory and Criticism. Ed. Marshal Cohen and Leo Braudy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • HUTCHEON, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation, Routledge, New York, 2006.
  • KAUFMAN, Charlie. Adaptation – the shooting script, Newmarket Press, New York, 2002.
  • MCFARLANE, Brian. “Novel to film: An introduction to the theory of adaptation”. Film Theory and Criticism. Ed. Marshal Cohen and Leo Braudy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • ORLEAN, Susan. The Orchid Thief, Ballentine Books, New York, 1998.
  • TOMASULO, Frank P., “Adaptation as Adaptation.” Authorship in Film Adaptation. Ed. Jack Boozer. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

Sobre Pedro Eiras

É formado em Jornalismo pela UFRJ, onde estudou mundos virtuais, e em Literatura pela University of Massachusetts, Amherst, onde estudou literatura, teatro e se especializou em Film Studies. Teve contos publicados no Brasil e no exterior, e adaptou para o teatro o clássico da literatura cabo-verdeana Os Flagelados do Vento Leste, de Manuel Lopes.