Jun 11, 2022Liked by Casey Muratori, Anna Rettberg

I'm surprised you all didn't talk more about the ending, because I think it is far more interesting and consequential to meaning of the film than a short mention of it would be able to capture, so now I'm slightly doubting my own interpretation because of that ...

At any rate, I think the way to read the ending (which I take to be everything from Donald dying to the final shot of the movie) is that Charlie Kaufman, having adapted over the course of the story, kills off Donald, literally but not intentionally via his reckless driving, but also quite figuratively, re-asserting singular voice and control of the film, and wrapping everything up in a way that both Charlie the character and Charlie the ostensible narrator both find satisfactory. In the Darwinian sense, he changed enough of himself in response to the stressors of his environment (movie studios execs, agents, popularity, girlfriends, siblings, his career, etc.) to survive, which basically entailed letting Donald take progressively more and more control (over the script and over Charlie's pre-beliefs about screenwriting). But having escaped the long dark night of the swamp together, where they come to terms with things, he no longer needs Donald, he's learned and taken everything he needs from him. The survival of the fittest, back to Darwin, in this case is a writer with talent who moves closer to what the people want, than a populist with no great ability.

This allows him to have closure with the script process and with his personal life - the very next scene is him finally overcoming his fears to tell the person he loves how he really feels. There's no mourning of Donald (save the melodrama of a phone call with their mom), just Charlie finishing his movie, again both literally and figuratively, and declaring it good. I think this is the perfect ending for this movie on its own terms. It's dark and cynical but entirely consistent with Charlie's desperation to finish the script.

Expand full comment
Jun 10, 2022Liked by Anna Rettberg

If you do a Charlie Kaufman marathon, I’d be curious to hear more detailed thoughts on Eternal Sunshine. You didn’t discuss it much, but that’s one of my top 3 or so movies. I feel like it strikes a perfect balance between “art museum” and “science museum”. I agree that some of his movies (including this one) have emotional beats that are intellectually satisfying but don’t really resonate, but I think Eternal Sunshine hits the right balance. It’s just the right level of cynical, and the emotional beats are so interwoven with the intricate storytelling that nothing feels forced and the result really resonates, at least for me.

That said, I do really enjoy Adaptation, and I definitely appreciated it more on this rewatch. Remarkably, I think this film manages to have its cake and eat it too. For all the insanely clever meta fiction, it also does capture the essence of The Orchid Thief! We learn exactly who Susan Orlean and John Laroche are, we appreciate the beauty and allure of flowers, we understand the drivers of John’s obsession, we see why the story resonates with both Susan and Charlie, and we get a visceral understanding of why the book is so anti-Hollywood and what would be lost in a traditional adaptation.

The last half hour kind of loses me, however. I appreciate it intellectually, but I think the authorship change is more fun to talk about than to actually watch. Like, John getting killed by a crocodile ex machina is extremely unsatisfying, and no amount of clever self awareness changes that, so why get invested in something that tells me it’s going to cheat? If you roll your eyes at a bad fanfic, but I tell you it’s intentionally bad, is that really an argument to stick with it?

Expand full comment
Jun 10, 2022·edited Jun 10, 2022Author

I would like to do Eternal Sunshine as well. I've only seen it once, and my main takeaway was just that I strongly disliked the direction. Spike Jonze seems to fit Charlie Kaufman really well, whereas I found the Michel Gondry style extremely distracting, to the point where it was hard to actually watch the movie. But I haven't seen the movie in many years, so I may have a different opinion now!

Regarding the last half hour of Adaptation, that was my feeling on watching it the first time, but strangely, I did not have that reaction watching it the second time. The second time (and third time - this was actually my third time watching it), I found the intellectually satisfying element more dominant, maybe because I knew what was going to happen already? Very hard to say, but I definitely noticed the difference.

Expand full comment