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Adaptation. is a 2002 American comedy-drama metafilm directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. The film stars Nicolas Cage as Kaufman and his fictional twin brother Donald, Meryl Streep as Orlean, and Chris Cooper as John Laroche, with Cara Seymour, Brian Cox as Robert McKee, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston, and Maggie Gyllenhaal in supporting roles.

Adaptation. film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySpike Jonze
Produced by
Screenplay byCharlie Kaufman[a]
Based onThe Orchid Thief
by Susan Orlean
Music byCarter Burwell
CinematographyLance Acord
Edited byEric Zumbrunnen
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • December 6, 2002 (2002-12-06) (United States)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$19 million
Box office$32.8 million[2]

It is based both on Susan Orlean's non-fiction book The Orchid Thief and Kaufman's experience attempting to adapt the book into a screenplay while suffering from writer's block. Adaptation also adds a number of fictitious elements, including Kaufman's twin brother (also credited as a writer for the film) and a romance between Orlean and Laroche, and culminates in completely invented events including fictional versions of Orlean and Laroche three years after the events related in The Orchid Thief.

Adaptation received awards at the 75th Academy Awards, 60th Golden Globe Awards, and 56th British Academy Film Awards, with Cooper winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Kaufman winning the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was ranked in a British Film Institute poll as one of the thirty best films of the 2000s.[3]



The self-loathing Charlie Kaufman is hired to write the screenplay adaptation for Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. Kaufman is struggling with anxiety, social phobia, depression, and low self esteem. His twin brother, Donald, has moved into his house and is taking advantage of living rent-free. Donald decides to become a screenwriter like Charlie and attends one of Robert McKee's famous seminars.

Charlie, who rejects formulaic script writing, wants to ensure that his script is a faithful adaptation of The Orchid Thief. However, he comes to realize that the book does not have a usable narrative and that it is impossible to turn into a film, leaving him with a serious case of writer's block. Already well over his deadline with Columbia Pictures, and despairing at writing his script with self-reference, Charlie travels to New York City to discuss the screenplay with Orlean directly. Too shy and socially awkward to speak with her upon arriving at her office, and with the surprising news that Donald's spec script for a clichéd psychological thriller, called The 3, is selling for six or seven figures, Charlie resorts to attending McKee's seminar in New York and asks him for advice. Charlie ends up asking Donald to join him in New York to assist with the story structure.

Donald, who is confident socially, pretends to be Charlie and interviews Orlean, but is suspicious of her account of the events of her book and suspects she is lying. He and Charlie follow Orlean to Florida where she meets John Laroche, the orchid-stealing protagonist of Orlean's book and her secret lover. It is revealed that the Seminole wanted the ghost orchid in order to manufacture a mind-altering drug that causes fascination – Laroche introduces this drug to Orlean. After Laroche and Orlean catch Charlie observing them taking the drug and having sex, Orlean decides that Charlie must be killed to prevent him from exposing her adultery and drug use.

Orlean forces Charlie at gunpoint to drive to the swamp, where she intends to kill him. Charlie and Donald escape and hide in the swamp, where they resolve their differences and Charlie's problems with women. Laroche accidentally shoots Donald. Fleeing, Charlie and Donald drive off, but suffer a head-on collision with a ranger's truck. Donald is ejected through the windshield and dies moments later; Charlie is saved by the driver-side airbag. Charlie runs off into the swamp to hide but is spotted by Laroche. However, Laroche is killed by an alligator before he can kill Charlie.

Orlean is arrested. Charlie reconciles with his mother as he calls to inform her of Donald's death. He later admits to his former love interest, Amelia, that he is still in love with her; she responds that she loves him too. Charlie finishes the script which ends with him in a voice-over announcing the script is finished and that he wants Gérard Depardieu to portray him in the film.


Nicolas Cage portrays Charlie and Donald Kaufman through split screen photography.

Tom Hanks was originally set for the double role of Charlie and Donald Kaufman. Variety reviewed the film as if Donald were a real person.[4] Cage took the role for a $5 million salary,[5] and wore a fatsuit during filming.[6]

Streep expressed strong interest in the role of Susan Orlean before being cast,[5] and took a salary cut in recognition of the film's budget.[7] John Turturro was approached to portray John Laroche.[8] Cooper strongly considered turning down Laroche, but accepted it after his wife urged him to.[9] Albert Finney, Christopher Plummer, Terence Stamp and Michael Caine were considered for the role of Robert McKee, but McKee personally suggested Brian Cox to filmmakers.[10]

Litefoot and Jay Tavare have small roles as Seminole. John Cusack, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, Lance Acord and Spike Jonze have uncredited cameos as themselves in scenes where Charlie Kaufman is on the set of Being John Malkovich, which he also wrote. Additional cameos include Doug Jones as explorer Augustus Margary, director Curtis Hanson as Orlean's husband, and David O. Russell as a New Yorker journalist.


"The emotions that Charlie is going through [in the film] are real and they reflect what I was going through when I was trying to write the script. Of course there are specific things that have been exaggerated or changed for cinematic purposes. Part of the experience of watching this movie is the experience of seeing that Donald Kaufman is credited as the co-screenwriter. It's part of the movie, it's part of the story."

—Charlie Kaufman on writing the script[11]

The idea to do a film adaptation of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief dates back to 1994.[12] Fox 2000 purchased the film rights in 1997,[13] eventually selling them to Jonathan Demme, who set the project at Columbia Pictures. Charlie Kaufman was hired to write the script, but struggled with the adaptation and writer's block.[14] Kaufman eventually created a script of his experience in adaptation, exaggerating events, and creating a fictional brother named Donald Kaufman. Kaufman put Donald Kaufman's name on the script and dedicated the film to the fictional character.[1] By September 1999, Kaufman had written two drafts of the script;[15] he turned in a third draft in November 2000.[16]

Kaufman explained,

The idea of how to write the film didn't come to me until quite late. It was the only idea I had, I liked it, and I knew there was no way it would be approved if I pitched it. So I just wrote it and never told the people I was writing it for. I only told Spike Jonze, as we were making Being John Malkovich and he saw how frustrated I was. Had he said I was crazy, I don't know what I would have done.[17]

In addition Kaufman stated, "I really thought I was ending my career by turning that in!"[18]

Adaptation went on fast track in April 2000, with Kaufman making some revisions.[4] Scott Brake of IGN gave the script a positive review in June 2000,[19] as did Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny of Ain't It Cool News in October.[20] Columbia Pictures committed to North America distribution only after Intermedia came aboard to finance the film in exchange for international distribution rights.[21] Filming started in late March 2001 in Los Angeles, and finished by June.[8] The "evolution" fantasy sequence was created by Digital Domain, while Skywalker Sound handled audio post production services. The makeup effects (the Nicolas Cage double, Chris Cooper's teeth, and the alligator attack) were the handiwork of makeup effects designer Tony Gardner and his effects company Alterian, Inc.


Columbia Pictures had at one point announced a late 2001 theatrical release date.[8] Adaptation opened on December 6, 2002 in the United States for a limited release. The film was released nationwide on February 14, 2003, earning $1,130,480 in its opening weekend in 672 theaters. Adaptation went on to gross $22.5 million in North America and $10.3 million in foreign countries, coming at a total of $32.8 million.[2]

Home mediaEdit

Adaptation was released on DVD and VHS by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment in May 2003.


Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 91% "Certified Fresh" rating, based on 207 reviews, with an average rating of 8.18/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Dizzyingly original, the loopy, multi-layered Adaptation is both funny and thought-provoking."[22] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 83 out of 100, based on 40 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim."[23]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a perfect four star rating, believing that the film "leaves you breathless with curiosity, as it teases itself with the directions it might take. To watch the film is to be actively involved in the challenge of its creation."[24] He later added the film to his "Great Movies" collection.[25] At the end of 2009, Ebert named the film one of the best of the decade. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also gave the film a four star rating and stated, "Screenwriting this smart, inventive, passionate and rip-roaringly funny is a rare species. So all praise to Charlie Kaufman, working with director Spike Jonze to create the most original and outrageous film comedy since the two first teamed on Being John Malkovich, in 1999."[26] Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe wrote, "This is epic, funny, tragic, demanding, strange, original, boldly sincere filmmaking. And the climax, the portion that either sinks the entire movie or self-critically explains how so many others derail, is bananas."[27] David Ansen of Newsweek felt Meryl Streep had not "been this much fun to watch in years",[28] while Mike Clark of USA Today gave a largely negative review, mainly criticizing the ending: "Too smart to ignore but a little too smugly superior to like, this could be a movie that ends up slapping its target audience in the face by shooting itself in the foot."[29]


Award Category Recipient Result
Academy Awards Best Actor Nicolas Cage Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Chris Cooper Won
Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman Nominated
British Academy Film Awards[30] Best Actor Nicolas Cage Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Chris Cooper Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman Won
Golden Globe Awards[31] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Director Spike Jonze Nominated
Best Actor – Musical or Comedy Nicolas Cage Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Chris Cooper Won
Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep Won
Best Screenplay Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman Nominated
Visual Effects Society[32] Best Performance by an Actor in an Effects Film Nicolas Cage Nominated
Belgian Film Critics Association[33] Grand Prix Nominated

In a 2005 survey, the Writers Guild of America named Kaufman's screenplay for Adaptation the 77th best movie screenplay ever written.[34]

Response from Susan OrleanEdit

Having been submitted the screenplay for approval, Susan Orlean was strongly opposed to the making of the film; she ended up reluctantly approving its production, and was ultimately very impressed with the final result. In 2012, she stated "[reading the screenplay] was a complete shock. My first reaction was 'Absolutely not!' They had to get my permission and I just said: 'No! Are you kidding? This is going to ruin my career!' Very wisely, they didn't really pressure me. They told me that everybody else had agreed and I somehow got emboldened. It was certainly scary to see the movie for the first time. It took a while for me to get over the idea that I had been insane to agree to it, but I love the movie now."

She was very appreciative of Streep's portrayal, calling it "one of my favourite performances by her" and praising the fact that her version of the character was based not on the real Orlean, but on how Streep imagined Orlean based on The Orchid Thief. Despite the fictional parts of the film, she praised it for being very faithful to the spirit of The Orchid Thief: "What I admire the most [about the film] is that it's very true to the book's themes of life and obsession, and there are also insights into things which are much more subtle in the book about longing, and about disappointment."[35]

See alsoEdit



  • Levinson, Julie (Spring 2007). "Adaptation, Metafiction, Self-Creation". Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture. 40: 1.
  • McKee, Robert (1997). Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting.
  • Orlean, Susan (1998). The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession.


  1. ^ Kaufman is credited as "Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman", despite Donald being a fictional character created for the film.[1]


  1. ^ a b Claude Brodesser (November 10, 1999). "Scribe revisiting reality". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  2. ^ a b "Adaptation. (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
  3. ^ "Sight & Sound's films of the decade". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on March 22, 2019. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Michael Fleming (April 6, 2000). "Brothers in a Conundrum; Rat Pack lives". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  5. ^ a b Claude Brodesser; Charles Lyons; Dana Harris (August 23, 2000). "Cage has Adaptation. inclination". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  6. ^ Stax (May 3, 2001). "Hey, Fatboy!". IGN. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  7. ^ Claude Brodesser (September 6, 2000). "Streep eyes Adaptation.". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  8. ^ a b c Greg Dean Schmitz. "Greg's Preview — Adaptation". Yahoo!. Archived from the original on May 18, 2007. Retrieved April 13, 2008.
  9. ^ Claude Brodesser; Jill Tiernan; Geoffrey Berkshire (March 23, 2003). "Backstage notes". Variety. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
  10. ^ Lynn Smith (November 3, 2002). "Being Robert McKee, both on screen and off". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ Spence D (December 5, 2002). "Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman Discuss Adaptation". IGN. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  12. ^ Bill Desowittz (August 18, 2002). "Development players make personal choices". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  13. ^ Oliver Jones (December 17, 1999). "Cruise in tune with Shaggs project". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  14. ^ Jonathan Bing (February 26, 2001). "Lit properties are still hottest tickets". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  15. ^ Charlie Kaufman (September 24, 1999). "Adaptation.: Second Draft" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 7, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  16. ^ Charlie Kaufman (November 21, 2000). "Adaptation.: Revised Draft" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 7, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2008.
  17. ^ Michael Fleming (November 14, 2002). "What will follow film success for Eminem?". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  18. ^ Stax (March 13, 2002). "Charles Kaufman Talks Shop". IGN. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  19. ^ Scott Brake (June 8, 2000). "Script Review of Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation". IGN. Archived from the original on February 17, 2009. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
  20. ^ Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny (October 10, 2000). "Moriarty Rumbles About Adaptation, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Catch Me If You Can!". Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved April 17, 2008.
  21. ^ Charles Lyons (June 18, 2001). "Helmers let out a rebel yell". Variety. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  22. ^ Rotten Tomatoes. Adaptation (2002). Retrieved on: 2019-07-24
  23. ^ "Adaptation. (2002): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
  24. ^ Roger Ebert (December 20, 2002). "Adaptation". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 11, 2008.
  25. ^ Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" essay about Adaptation.
  26. ^ Peter Travers (December 6, 2002). "Adaptation". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  27. ^ Wesley Morris (December 20, 2002). "A revolutionary look at the evolution of creativity". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 11, 2008.
  28. ^ David Ansen (December 9, 2002). "Meta-Movie Madness". Newsweek. Retrieved April 12, 2008.
  29. ^ Mike Clark (December 5, 2002). "Cage's Adaptation? Sorry, Charlie". USA Today. Retrieved April 12, 2008.
  30. ^ "BAFTA Awards: 2003". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved April 12, 2008.
  31. ^ "Golden Globes: 2003". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved April 12, 2008.
  32. ^ "1st Annual VES Awards". visual effects society. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  33. ^ Pluijgers, Jean-François (January 12, 2004). "L'UCC s'offre une cure de "Gioventu"". La Libre Belgique (in French). Retrieved October 26, 2012.
  34. ^ "101 Greatest Screenplays List". Writers Guild of America, West. Archived from the original on August 13, 2006. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  35. ^ Kevin Perry. "The New Yorker's Susan Orlean on crafting a story and being played by Meryl Streep in Adaptation". GQ. 16 April 2012.
  36. ^ Lim, Dennis (April 29, 2003). "No Exit: Hell Is Other People". The Village Voice.
  37. ^ Bailey, Jason (January 4, 2012). "The Worst January Film Releases of Recent Memory". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 23, 2016.

External linksEdit