Adaptation from Charles Darwin to Charlie Kaufman


  • Peter Marks


Cinema history has long been adorned (and littered) with the adaptation of literature for the screen. Spike Jonze’s film Adaptation presents one of the most brilliantly comic accounts of this fraught process, charting the fevered efforts of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman to adapt Susan Orlean’s bestseller The Orchid Thief. But the film does far more than depict the troubles attending adaptation, for Kaufman himself struggles with forms of change, if not mutation, as he tries to maintain his integrity in a world of cliché and conformity. Beyond the artistic sense of adaptation, then, lurk existential questions about Kaufman’s own ability to adapt, or to resist adaptation, questions that complicate his worries about originality and creativity. Intersecting with these concerns, and introduced by Orlean’s text about orchids, are those of origins and creation drawn from the work of Charles Darwin, a figure who haunts both literary and cinematic texts.