Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Charlie Kaufman (voice-over):The only thing I'm actually qualified to write about is myself and my own self - Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation)

In his essay sixty three words, Milan Kundera speaks about the process of "dizzying reduction that reduces lives to our social functions". He argues that the novel's raison d'etre is to exist resisting this reduction and champion the spirit of complexity saying things aren't simple.

But with the quote above I have attempted to do exactly that kind of reduction and with limited success. Times demand you reduce and not do justice to your reading experience. Quite possible when you it is impressive stuff but not quite possible when it is flooring. You throw the pencil away because every line is underlinable and the experience of reading is just that. No occasion to be quote happy or express well enough why it is magical. That's how I feel about Adaptation.

Revisited and floored again. If you want to write well, you should perhaps not intensely like what you write about. I shouldn't care about making this look interesting. But how can I not. To write about a flower, to dramatize a flower...I have to show the flower's arc.


After the success of his offbeat debut, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is commissioned by a studio to adapt Susan Orlean's novel: 'The Orchid Thief'. Susan had based her book on an interesting personality: John Laroche and her own joint quest with him for a rare orchid flower. Laroche moves through interests and relationships in his life with a phenomenal capacity for ‘adaptation’.
Charlie aims to be faithful to the spirit of Susan’s book without yielding to Hollywood clichés like "sex, drugs, guns and car chases" or “characters undergoing profound realizations”. The task proves to be difficult as he worries he will not do justice to the book. Charlie's twin brother Donald -who is also a screenwriting aspirant- swears by apopular screenwriting course, whose trite prescriptions meet with Charlie’s scorn.Donald’s clichéd debut script is on its way to success, while Charlie struggles to finishhis script. Swallowing his pride, Charlie seeks the advice of Donald's teacher andeventually of Donald himself. The twins track Susan and Laroche and discover a trail ofdrugs and sex leading to a dramatic end involving alligators, car chases and gunshots.

Charlie finally dares to be clichéd in life as well as in his craft.


  1. I didn't like the way the narration abruptly shifts to have real life tame charlie. The whole gator-swamp-chase thing made me lose interest in what had till then been an interesting movie. I think they handled this quite well in Crash - the cop who sets out to be a non-racist guy ends up killing the black guy and vice versa ... very nuanced, I thought.

  2. Nevaire !
    I didn't like the way the narration abruptly shifts to have real life tame charlie.Adhu dhaan visayamE...
    The only thing abrupt is the frong jump from the events in the life of Laroche to Susan writing it to Charlie reading it to Charlie writing it. All shown in parallel.

    He progressively loses grip on how to write it. Forever he maintains it is a movie about flowers and how they are amazing. Marty his agent - in a passing manner - asks him if they are indeed amazing. Kicks off yet another self-doubt. The 'amazing' spiel (i.e. because of their dance the world lives, Laroche's line about if you find your flower//) are things Charlie has til then repeated to himself. Not something he feels. He wanted to cling on to that to write the script.

    So when that gets destroyed he goes to Susan's insightful line about how the world is too huge and having a passion whittles the world to a more manageable size. So he attempts to reposition his script as not about flowers but about how the world is unmanageable: Darwin, Laroche, the ghost orchid and Susan all from the same original single cell organism.

    Then he bumps into Valerie in the restaurant and avoids meeting Susan. He then realizes that he can't honestly write about Susan either. He can write only about himself !

    Then that bumps into an issue. He goes to New York. Feels like a sellout in attending McKee's class.He says that in voice-over and McKee rails at voice-over users and voice-over ends lol

    The real life 'realization' starts then. Donald enters and changes the tone of the film till then. Recall his line: My genre is thriller what's yours ?. Also recall the conversation about Casablanca (greatest screenplay ever written according to McKee) mixed genres. And it was written by the Epstein twins.

    The change in genre, the spying, the discovery of drugs, Laroche and Susan making out. That's like a joke without a punchline. Damn funny just that I don't laugh out loud.

    Pushed to the wall Charlie has an 'epiphany' when Donald tells him: You are what you love not what loves you. I decided that long time back The writer is just taunting you. He has messed with your cynicism and is taunting the audience to get senti but making fun all along.

    The climax is hit or miss. The presence of cars and guns was sufficient for me. I just loved it. The alligator attack was just a cherry on the absurd cake. And with ruthless Hollywood efficiency Donald is killed once his purpose is served.

    Crash.... vaaila adinga vaaila adinga. :D

    It was good but the interlinkages were too contrived for me. Sakthivel Gounderspeak: small world-nga. Life's like that. Series of unfortunate coexistence issues, Sandra Bullock is friendless, people are small-minded, self-centred, prejudiced.The cop story you refer to was well done. The deep seated prejudice unearthed in an unfortunate moment etc.

    But Adaptation IMO is in another level. The writer Charlie Kaufman's medium is not just the film's content but also the film's structure itself. The meta-ness of the whole things is unparalleled.

  3. I agree that the inter linkages in Crash were contrived. But I loved the fact that they even dared to suggest in a main stream movie that there might be more to racism than the usual ...

  4. here's a small and humble request from one of your blog followers.. while i appreciate the depth of writing, it would be wonderful if you could bring in make it light..

    sometimes, as i meander through the heavy content the thread of conversation gets lost..

    in short.. make it light for the average reader! :-)

  5. Welcome calvin. To lament at the loss of the thread of the conversation is to assume first that such a thread exists. So I choose to feel flattered.

  6. "in short.. make it light for the average reader"
    I thought the apt response from dagalti here should be: "paLakkamillIng" :-)

  7. well raj, i don't understand "paLakkamillIng", so can't respond to what u'r trying to say..

    Thanks, dagalti for the welcome.
    in terms of thread of "conversation" i meant, that you are trying to reach out /converse with u'r audience/readership through your blog..
    While i also understand that u'r blog is a statement of your thoughts, the simplification has to happen at a different level..and once it happens there, it would flow in u'r content as well..
    Also, i would want to make it clear that simplification doesn't mean lack of depth..

    or, mayb on the other hand.. i guess its easier to pass sweeping judgements.. :-)
    all in all, i think u write well.. so do keep writing!

  8. Raj :-)

    Calvin, thanks for your comment. I try to strike a balance between 'reaching out' and keeping it 'my blog'. There are some personal scrawls that stump me when I revisit. It would be too self-indulgent to impose such stuff out in the open here.

    As the line in the post says, to write well about something one perhaps mustn't like it too intensely. That interferes with the expression. On the other hand if I were able to take the content a little more lightly then I can be steady enough to chisel around and achieve better writing.

    For instance, I re-read this particular post. I now see a couple of places that could have been more lucid.

    The expression 'throwing away the pencil' - starts from a mental image of someone cooked up in a corner reading a book underlining nice parts. That itself is a process of reducing a book to its 'nice' parts.

    While something of that sort is possible when the work is 'merely' impressive it is difficult when the work floors me.

    Now I see this did not come out as clearly as I thought it did when I wrote it.

  9. Badly written blog.

  10. Blogs are either moral or immoral, that is all.

  11. calvin, oh sorry. "palakkamilling" is an in-joke, difficult to translate. I cant do justice - lets leave it at that. There was no dig at you, just in case you wonder.

  12. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are either well written or badly written. That is all - Oscar Wilde, Preface to Picture of Dorian Gray

    Him: Come to my quarters tomorrow at three.
    Sonja: I can't.
    Him: Please!
    Sonja: It's immoral. What time?
    Him: Who is to say what is moral?
    Sonja: Morality is subjective.
    Him: Subjectivity is objective.
    Sonja: Moral notions imply attributes to substances which exist only in relational duality.
    Him: Not as an essential extension of ontological existence.
    Sonja: Can we not talk about sex so much?

    - Love and Death (Woody Allen)