In the last decade or so, no film has been more important to me as an artist than Adaptation.
Now, I’m not saying it’s the best film of that time period (I have no idea what film would hold that title)… but no other script in the first decade of the 21st century has informed my sense of self as a creator of stories than Charlie Kaufman’s. The conflicts it invokes are irretrievably intertwined: the real self vs. the created self; fiction vs. non-fiction. The questions it asks are likewise inseparable: how to create stories out of truth; how an artist should relate to his or her subject. These are, to my mind, among the most essential matters with which we must concern ourselves as humans—the very nature of the meaning of existence. Why else would we make art?
Kaufman continued his investigation with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which though a much lighter film is nonetheless thoroughly entertaining—particularly to a child of the 1970s—and the absolutely brilliant and thought-provoking Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And of course it goes without saying that he started asking those questions with the captivating and quirky Being John Malkovich… but Adaptation was his apotheosis.
The thoroughly overwrought failure of Synecdoche, New York, for my money, was the result of all his previous work collapsing under its own great artistic weight. We shall not speak of it again.
We shall, instead, hope he returns soon with more stories that help us understand who we are as human beings in this modern world. Now that Woody Allen seems to be finally entering a shallow twilight, all we have are the Coen brothers until Kaufman returns… and as terrific as they are, they aren’t perfect, either. (A Serious Man?) We very much need Kaufman to return to full strength, and soon.