Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
For the fictional Charlie Kaufman in 2002’s Adaptation., grasping the numerous narratives those two letters encompass in just 120 pages seems impossible. Thankfully, the real Charlie Kaufman moved beyond that impasse.
A strangely personal pouring-forth of Kaufman’s actual sweat-soaked anxiety at converting Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief into a script yielded Adaptation.. It was his second knockout collaboration with director Spike Jonze and his “first” with “brother” Donald (one of few fictional people ever nominated for an Oscar).
At all times, Adaptation. carried the thrillingly unpredictable charge of a film writing itself before your eyes — the life of river-rat ecologist John Laroche (Oscar-winner Chris Cooper, playing Adaptation.’s emotional puppet) as penned in piecemeal by Charlie (Nicolas Cage), his fictitious twin Donald (also Nicolas Cage) and journalist Orlean (Meryl Streep).
Jonze matches Kaufman’s stunning tumble through time, neuroticism, fact and fiction with a splendorous depiction of artistic creation at a cellular level.
Together, they examine a need to divine dramatic intent from incidents where none existed and a crisis of originality among those chronicling others’ work for a living. There also are shrewdly comic screenwriting observations and Donald’s garish script for The 3, a thriller with thematic “technology-versus-horse” tension that their Mom called “psychologically taut.”
When Donald twists Laroche’s tale into a sordid saga of infidelity, drugs and violence, it’s a purposefully bland seasoning in the authorial soup. But Jonze’s rich final time-lapse shot reminded that Kaufman could cook up another recipe in no time at all, and he would (brilliantly) twice more in the decade.