I love the analyzing what makes a good story. This probably stems from an early anxiety that I did not see myself as a “storyteller.” Of course, everyone tells stories; some are just more compelling to listen to than others. It is enough to love “Story,” and practice it. In fact, I would argue that storytelling is built into our “DNA,” and without it we would not be live, or for that matter, our ancestors would not have survived without letting each other know what dangers to avoid or what opportunities looked promising – especially when came to food. By the way, I see Yelp as a great source of people telling their stories, and revealing who they are.
Now, I can talk about how the “emotional roller coaster” that stories takes us through reveals what we all must go through in life, but that is for another post. What I’d like to begin to explore here is Love and Story. I’d say 99% of the movies we see about love is about romantic love; someone is lonely, and someone struggles to show how much they love someone. Of course, the story arch must include a point where they have to get over themselves in someway. There is a realization, often that all this time, they have been in love with a certain person all the long. The hero runs through the airport realizing the girl of his dreams is about to fly away forever. Just in the nick of time, he catches her, stops the world, or the plane, and proposes to her. Yea! Hurray. But let’s see another kind of love. No, not the romantic love, but a simpler distress-less kind of love (a meditative buddhist love?) – through an unlikely movie.
Exhausted from a full day of teaching, I visit my mom in her room, and the brilliant movie Adaptation is on TV. This is probably one of Nicolas Cage’s better movies, by far, in my humble opinion. In some ways, it makes perfect sense to cast him in the hero’s role: a neurotic screenwriter tasked to write a movie adaptation for Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. This is perfect only because it makes no sense at all, which perfect for that post-modern aesthetic. And yet, Cage, known for his over the top acting style, subdues that personna enough where the script still shines. Okay, enough judgement.You can read more about it in this Adaptation interview by About.com.
Since this is a Charlie Kaufman script, of Being John Malkovich, and New York Synecdoche fame, we can expect that post-modern outlandishness with poignant commentaries about the nature of being will ensue. Which gets me to my point. Every script has the critical theme verbalized in dialogue. Here, I will spoil the end if you haven’t seen this 90-ish movie already. I figure you’ve had enough time. And, perhaps by telling you, you will appreciate the message all the more.
In the case of Adaptation, two arching themes occur. One takes us through the life of a fictionalized account of Susan Orlean searching for a life of a passion in her dull life as a writer, and ends up being consumed by the passion itself. She wonders “I wish I was passionate about something,” and begins pursuing the story of John Laroche who steals orchids for profit, but has deep appreciation for their beauty. He fascinates Orlean, in the Adaptation movie at least, by waxing and waning about who you are when you understand what an orchid must go through (an analogy to Story). She admires and wants to know that level of deep insight and be the passionate life that Laroche represents. She convinces him to go on a hunt for the rare Ghost Orchid. Searching a vast swamp for hours, they finally find the elusive orchid, to which she says deflated and exhausted, “It’s just a flower.”
Even though throughout the movie, she is told how deep and insightful her book is, she realizes that she may never know or live a life of passion like Laroche. Her relationship with Laroche starts to wane, and Laroche, fearing losing her respect, reveals that the local Seminoles use the orchids to get high. I seriously doubt this happens in real life. Orleans takes the high, and reaches a state of “passion” and “wonder” she has never felt befre. She becomes addicted, and goes wild, until…she is found out by her screenwriter, our hero, Charlie Kaufman, who is so distraught about trying to adapt her non-fiction book into a movie that he follows her to find out more about her and her relationship with Laroche. Of course, what he sees cannot be put into the script, and his respect for her is completely destroyed. Charlie is not only completely disillusioned with Orleans, but Orleans, herself, knows her reputation will be completely ruined. Orleans, decides she must kill her screenwriter! Charlie runs to his car where his twin brother (which I’m sure Kaufman does not have) is waiting and they tear down the street attempting to escape. Orleans and Laroche chase the Kaufman brothers to a swamp. The brothers run out the car and hide deep in the swaps overnight.
Now, the brothers are together crouched under a log. Their relationship has always been at odds with each other because of their polar opposite personalities. Charlie is the neurotic, anxious, sweat-beading-on-the-head worrier, who wants to break out of convention in his script by telling the truth of The Orchid Thief book, but cannot figure it out, but wants to live up to its fantastic prose. Donald, who is the life of the party, is an unseasoned scriptwriter, but sees the freedom given in the conventions of Robert McKee’s Story class, and thereby being able to mentor Charlie by extracting “the truth by telling a lie” or “You must inject life into a story to make it work,” or something to that extent. In the end this twisty movie does extract an important nugget of wisdom. As the brothers are in despair about their imminent death, Charlie laments again how fat and stupid he is, and that no one wants him, and how much of a failure he is. He knows this all comes from thinking too much. He appreciates Donald even more by admiring that Donald lives without the constant neurosis of being wanted. Donald consoles him with this beautiful insight. “I’ve learned long ago, that ‘You are who you love. Not who loves you.'” Charlie is transformed, his anxiety washing away, perhaps enlightened by this simple truth – a truth that Charlie has been searching for all the long. “Thank you,” Charlie says – words that he thought he would ever say to brother.
I’ll skip to the very end, this way I don’t completely spoil it for you. Charlie does find a solution for his screenplay for The Orchid Thief, and has coffee with the girl he truly loves back in Los Angeles. Throughout the movie, trying to pursue her, especially as she amounts to his best friend. We see him talking to himself, psyching himself to kiss her. But, here in the final scene, he is smiling for the first time. And, even though he knows she has abandoned him for another, he looks at her lovingly, we see in his eyes that he is not concerned with what he looks like, but who he loves. He has no anxiety for what he must be. Who he is now, a person who loves another, is enough. That is who he is,and he embraces that moment and dare we say – himself.
Brilliantly, the last shot is the rush of LA with all its neurosis; cars driving, lights beating. In the foreground, we see daisies. As the camera speeds towards the future we see the flowers growing and subsiding and growing again. As if amidst all this chaos of life, this story of evolution, life continues with perhaps the most evolved and most enlightened people, things, beings, and moments growing and dying appreciating life in the timelessness within time.