The second feature film by the creative team behind the hilarious, heartbreaking mindfuck Being John Malkovich, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, director Spike Jonze, cinematographer Lance Accord, and composer Carter Burwell. It will be theatrically released worldwide on December 6, 2002. If you consider yourself a writer (and who here doesn't?), you must see this movie.
(don't say I didn't warn ya)
Charlie Kaufman was hired to adapt a novel, The Orchid Thief, by New Yorker journalist Susan Orlean, into a Hollywood screenplay.
The book is about Florida horticulturist John Laroche, who prowls the gator-infested Big Cypress swamp, getting Seminole Indians to pluck rare and valuable ghost orchids for him without fear of prosecution for harming protected wetlands. (One endangered species deserves another.) Yet, at the core of the book is the flower itself. The singlemindedness, or zeromindedness, of its existence; its perfection in pollination and its ultimate, pure beauty. John is consumed with passion for orchids, and Susan, observing this, wishes to feel a corollary passion, to be simple like a flower.
Charlie, after reading Susan's book and wishing to be true to it, has the same urge. A desire to know desire, and a need for drama and conflict where there is none. So, as she wrote herself into the novel, he writes himself into the screenplay.
All of these events happened in real life. They are also the events you see happen in the film.
Most of the body of the film cuts between Charlie in LA as he searches for the correct approach to the script, and Susan three years earlier in the Florida Everglades as she searches for the elusive ghost orchid. Eventually, (and admittedly) a story about itself becomes like a snake eating its tail, and must escape its own gravity well. Which it does, remarkably, in a fascinatingly wild third act. As Charlie struggles to understand the properties of a successful story, as he deconstructs the fictional, his own life becomes more fantastical. He is unsure if he is still the real Charlie. And, of course, in a way he never was.
This movie dares you to guess its own twist ending. Multiple personality disorder! Deus ex machina! It was all a dream! Like The Player, it dangles all these possibilities in front of you and still surprises you, with something much more satisfying. This film could be said to pick up where that one leaves off, even managing to wrest moral high ground from the recursion cycle.
Nicolas Cage, I forgive you for everything since Leaving Las Vegas. Yes, even for Snake Eyes, Con Air, and Gone in 60 Seconds. Cage (who, don't forget, is Jonze's wife's cousin) carries the film as Charlie Kaufman, fully likeable while full of self-loathing, and Charlie's twin brother Donald, also at work on a screenplay, a riotously cliched serial killer thriller. The many scenes between the two brothers are a triumph of unobtrusive special effects. Meryl Streep, probably the most distinguished and decorated American actress of our time, brings a profound sadness and surprising rawness to the character of Susan (not at all based on the real Susan, who I had the pleasure of speaking to at a special NYU screening). Chris Cooper, however, who you may remember as the ex-soldier father from American Beauty, is so reminiscent of the real John Laroche that it jarred even Laroche, according to Orlean.
Please, please, please go see this movie. You get everything. You get warm, emotional humor and biting satire. You get touching romances and terrifying car crashes. And you get the Big Issues: Existence is so glorious when simple, but that could never be all life is. It grows, it changes, it evolves, it adapts.