A film about a self-loathing screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, who wants to write something new, and he gets the book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean, and becomes increasingly desperate as he fails to adapt it to the big screen.
Many books have been called unfilmable, and maybe some are, but we’ve had Lord of the Rings, Cloud Atlas, and the Life of Pi to name a few. Maybe it’s the sheer scope of the books that make it considered unfilmable, maybe it’s considered not engaging enough to the audience and the filmmakers keep the audiences entertainment in mind, or maybe there is not enough material to make a decent movie out of it. With “The Orchid Thief” Charlie himself says “There’s no story here” and is told to “Make one up”, Charlie doesn’t want to do that, he doesn’t want to write a standard Hollywood movie, he wants to be faithful, as he puts it, “A responsibility” to someone else’s material. Is it because of a responsibility though, or because he’s trying to push himself, or because he wants something different, wants to stand out? I think it’s a little of all of them.
He struggles with what he wants and what he can do, and he can’t do a lot. He knows his problems, but can’t correct them. He tries to kiss the girl, but can’t bring himself to do it, he resolves to go right to her door, but just drives away, even when he’s at the end of his rope and he needs to see the author of the book, he goes all the way to New York, and even when she is right in front of him he can’t speak up to get her attention; all of that effort, and travelling all that way, he just stops short of his goal. As he puts it, he’s a mess.
His twin brother suddenly decides to be a screenwriter like him, and while Charlie is trying to make his film exciting and getting more desperate, his brother writes a typical Hollywood thriller and while Charlie can see the problems with it, it will sell for 5 to 6 figures. This makes Charlie attend a film seminar which he denounces before, but he learns something, “Your characters must change… and the change must come from them.” This is what we are seeing happen with Charlie, he is slowly changing, you don’t see it through most of the film, but little by little, you see changes. He asks for help where he wouldn’t before, he takes the dive where he wouldn’t before, he speaks to and kisses a woman where he wouldn’t before.
Charlie is struggling, and we feel his frustration, his lack of conviction with life choices. One character wants to know how it feels to care about something so passionately, and we feel Charlie does care about his work, but it’s that passion that eventually brings him down.
Charlie at the end, manages to kiss the woman he wanted to at the start, but she is already with someone else, and Charlie knows it. He’s not doing it to cheat, he’s not doing it because he knows he’s going to get the girl, he’s doing it for him, he’s showing to himself that he can do it, that he has changed. It’s his first real new step forward.