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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

it’s all in your head: ‘Adaptation’ as a mirror on geekiness

A few years ago I put together a list of my own personal top 100 films, those movies that have been the most influential on my love of movies. I recently updated the list [see it here] with a few films from the early 2000s, but for the most part, the films on the list cluster in the 1980s and early ’90s, because I’m a Generation Xer and that’s when my brain was in its most malleable, most warpable period. And because Xerness is in many ways synonymous with geekiness, many of these 100 films have come to be understood, in that telepathic way that pop culture seems to work among us Xers, as geek classics … and the ones that aren’t seen that way, well, I can connect them.

So, in no particular order, I’ll take a quick look back at the films on that list, one film each week. Today:

#76: ADAPTATION (2002):
The thing about being a geek is, you live in your head. You think about things too much, you overanalyze everything, you can never shut your brain off. That’s how we ended up with things like fan fiction, fantasy baseball, Metafilter, and, well, FlickFilosopher.com. Inherent in the concept of geekiness, in fact, is that it’s fun to deconstruct things that no one had deemed worthy of deconstruction before, like video games and comic books.

Adaptation takes that geeky urge one step further: it deconstructs the impulse to deconstruct stuff by deconstructing itself… and itself is already about figuring out how to deconstruct a book in order to turn it into a movie. It turns the impossibility of not overanalyzing something — in this case, one’s own rather twisted and creative compulsion to take someone else’s work and put one’s own spin on it — into a self-deprecating comedy that is as much about celebrating this brand of secondhand intellectualism and pointing out the genuine agony of the creative process as it about making fun of them. Nicolas Cage’s “Charlie Kaufman,” a fictional stand-in for the real writer of the film, is the worst stereotype of the “geek” — he’s socially awkward; he finds it difficult to express himself verbally, for all his skill as a writer — and yet his disdain for his less “geeky” twin brother, Donald, does not spring from a jealousy of Donald’s ease around women but from Donald’s ease with the creative process… which is to say, Donald does not agonize over what he’s writing (a crappy thriller script), which is to say that Donald has no creative process. Donald doesn’t think — he just does. Charlie can’t stand it.

But mostly Charlie can’t stand it because he wouldn’t change himself to be more like Donald, either. It is the conundrum of the geek: we wouldn’t want to not be geeks, but maybe it would be nice if it weren’t so hard all the time, too. Maybe it would be nice if geekiness got a little more respect (some of the funniest moments in Adaptation come when Charlie, who is already acclaimed as a screenwriter, still gets the cold shoulder from the cool kids).

But probably not. With our inability to turn our brains off, we geeks would overanalyze any sudden niceness extended to us, and wonder what the hell that’s all about, anyway …

[more from me on the film here]

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