Jack Finucane and Laurent Shervington
University of Western Australia
Adaptation (2002) is a film directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, chronicling a part-real, part-fiction retelling of Kaufman’s own experience adapting Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief (1998). Jonze and Kaufman’s film is told in a multi-layered and almost surrealist style, prompting film critic Roger Ebert to posit that ‘to watch the film is to be actively involved in the challenge of its creation.’ Due to its highly fragmented and metanarrative structure, the film appears replete with philosophical significance, provoking several studies on the film’s engagement with postmodernism, metafiction and the process of adaptation. While these elements form a major part of the film’s narrative and subtextual composition, another seemingly uncommented upon tendency is the critique the film levels at the concept of neutrality. In the context of this article, neutrality is defined as a certain orientation that involves the erasure of bias or desire, along with a simultaneous investment in an ideal of objectivity. Such a concern forms a major part of the character Charlie’s (based upon Kaufman himself) struggle, with his own aspirations towards remaining separated and distanced from his creative work also framing his relationships with other characters. What is at stake within this meditation on neutrality is the status of subjectivity, that is to say, the imprint of one’s own desires upon the world around them.
Keywords: Adaptation, Objectivity, Desire, Subjectivity, Neutrality, Charlie Kaufman, Susan Orlean, Author