Adapting Orchids to Hollywood

By Clint Zavodny

Chris Cooper portrays rare orchid hunter John Laroche in the 2002 film “Adaptation. “Adaptation” is a movie based on the book “The Orchid Thief” … or rather, it’s a movie about a movie writer – Charlie Kaufman – trying to adapt this particular book into a screenplay.

Released in 2002, this unique movie centers around three main characters – Kaufman, the aforementioned Hollywood screenwriter played by Nicolas Cage; Susan Orlean, the author of the book “The Orchid Thief” played by Meryl Streep; and John Laroche, the orchid thief himself played by Chris Cooper – all three whom did a phenomenal job in their respective roles. The only time I even thought of Nicolas Cage as Nicolas Cage was in during the opening credits when his name flashed up over a black screen, and his voice alone was heard narrating the movie’s opening lines. Then it shows him, acting as Kaufman on the set for “Being John Malkovich”, and from then on I only saw Kaufman. Or, Kaufmans, I should say, as he portrays both Charlie and twin brother Donald Kaufman. Equally impressive was how the movie was shot and pieced together by director Spike Jonze.

Quickly after leaving the movie set, a nervous and sweaty Kaufman is seen sitting at a table with an attractive female agent on a sort of job interview for the screenwriting assignment. Kaufman is blubbering both to himself internally and to the lady verbally as he is trying to communicate his strong feelings about the book. It is clear that he is passionate about “The Orchid Thief”, and he is determined not to destroy its meaning with a bunch of Hollywood fluff … although, he admits, he is not quite sure how he will do it. He wants to be true to the book, he wants it to essentially be a movie about a flower – the beauty of the flower itself. He doesn’t want to invent any of the crazy car chases, silly romances, gratuitous explosions or any other pointless devices to drive the plot.
The problem is all of those elements that typically drive a Hollywood movie are not there. How can he stay true to the book? Stay true to the flower, the search for the mysterious ghost orchid?

The movie begins to morph into two movies as his inner struggle continues, splitting off between Kaufman’s dilemma and Orlean’s previous search for orchid, but ultimately the two worlds collide at the end in a most interesting and thought provoking way.

Even though the movie does not follow the book, uh, “by the book” as one might say – the brilliance of “Adaptation” is how the movie ultimately parallels the “The Orchid Thief” perfectly. In “The Orchid Thief”, Orlean put herself in the book by telling the story of Laroche.

In “Adaptation”, Kaufman then puts himself in the story by showing the story of Orlean, showing how she was trying to tell the story of Laroche, which, needless to say, gives it a very interesting perspective.

And for what it’s worth, I like the voiceover. Sometimes I feel like my whole life is a voiceover. Now I guess it’s time for me to start my quest for the ghost orchid. Or maybe I’ve already been looking for it all along?

Adaptation (2002)
Run Time: 112 minutes

Editors note: I wanted to watch this before but never did because it was not on Netflix. So I just googled it the other day, and found it online for free. You can watch the full movie online at


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