Cognition Engine


The debate concerning the proper definition of SF is extensive. The 1979 edition of the The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction gave over twenty definitions. By 1993 editorial staff had whittled it down to eleven. The Science Fiction Reference Book quotes sixty-eight definitions. The majority of such definitions of SF are unsatisfactory, some are flippant and most miss something crucial. One cannot say that SF is realism because it is not limited to the methods of realistic description: for the same reason SF cannot be classed as naturalism. To define SF as “narratives of the future” is also mistaken. As Philip K.Dick writes, “it is not the job, really, of Science Fiction to predict. Science Fiction only seems to predict. It’s like the aliens on Star Trek, all of whom speak English. A literary convention is involved. Nothing more.”Dick gives another very simple reason why SF cannot be defined as fiction of the Future; namely there can be science fiction set in the present; the alternate world story or novel.

If SF can neither be defined as narratives of the future, nor as technological fiction and if it is not realism, naturalism or myth, then what exactly is it?

Hugo Gernsback’s definition “of a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision” identifies only SF’s “lower stages of development”, in the view of Darko Suvin, as does any definition which focuses on advanced technology, rather than on the “social arrangements these advances give rise to.” “Getting the technical details right” is not, according to Parrinder, the defining feature of SF. This is because SF writers deal with non-technologies — namely social and institutional extrapolations: living arrangements, norms of sexual behaviour, religious cults, even future art forms and board games. Williams makes the same point when he states that SF, in addition to exploring new technologies, can explore a new set of laws, such as new abstract property relations — what he terms “new social machinery.”

The Science of Fiction, New Humanist

Ultimate Warrior

“Only a few people still live in New York in 2015. They are organized in gangs with their own turf. One of them is led by Baron, another one by Carrot, and they are constantly at war with each other.”

“Directed by Robert ‘Enter the Dragon‘ Clouse, The Ultimate Warrior is a gritty, uncompromising effort blessed with a quality cast and some brutally violent and well choreographed fight scenes. Baldy Brynner is perfect as the honourable hero for hire, and looks totally bad-ass stripped to his waist and brandishing a wickedly sharp dagger. Likewise, Smith is excellent as Carson’s heartless nemesis Carrot, a savage brute so cruel that he thinks nothing of using a baby as bait to lure his enemy into a trap. From it’s opening scene, in which a cobweb-strewn, dusty, derelict loft provides the setting for a violent ambush, to the gripping bloody finalé, which sees Brynner and Smith battling to the death in a long abandoned subway, the Ultimate Warrior is unrelentingly harsh glimpse into a possible future where life is cheap, and often short.”


Base Jumping

Redefining the Basemap
Alison Sant


Current collaborative mapping projects using locative media technologies have often overlooked the conventions of the base map as a site for reinvention. Although these projects are ambitious in their aim to propose alternative organizations of urban space through the way it is digitally mapped, they remain bounded by datasets that reinforce a Cartesian and static notion of urban space. This paper questions the methodology of the base map as it is utilized in these projects, and proposes alternative approaches for mapping the city. Specifically, it looks at the city as a space of events, defined by the ways in which it is used rather than the orthogonal geometry by which it is constructed; and highlights several key examples from the history of urban planning and art practice that provide models for such alternative mapping strategies. By focusing on the limitations of the base map, I hope to provoke new ideas for these emerging projects.


Collaborative Mapping

As the technologies of locative media develop, they have engendered a series of projects that utilize GPS (Global Positioning Systems), wireless networks, and mobile technologies to augment space with its digital double of media annotations. Among these, collaborative mapping projects have proposed to use location-sensing technologies to create a shared interpretation of urban space. Admirably, they offer tools with which to gather multiple perspectives of place – escaping the margins of tourist guidebooks and visitor maps – to enable a collective memory in which, in the words of Giles Lane, “ordinary citizens embed social knowledge in the new landscape of the city.”[1] As the strategies of this vision are defined, the code is written, and the geographic data sets are collected, it is crucial that we examine the strategies of mapping itself; including not only what is mapped but how.


Google Maps Hack


Google Maps hack turns book into geo-novel

In its current incarnation, Christoph Benda’s first novel requires that you a) be able to read German and b) have an internet connection.

Benda’s work, Senghor on the Rocks, is a geo-referenced electronic novel in which the text is combined with an embedded map mash-up from Google Maps on a website.

The map, which is fixed in the “Satellite View” mode, moves as the location changes in the novel and every page of text is accompanied by a corresponding map.

The geo-novel is an adaption of a book written by Benda, a former advertising copywriter now working at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and is based on his travels in the African nation of Senegal.

“For me, the project always has been related to a map in a certain sense. Only that it wasn’t hi tech, online satellite imagery but the rather worn out paper map I had carried with me throughout all my time in Africa,” says Benda who wrote the book between 2002 and 2005.

Set in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, the story takes place on the day in 2001 when the nation’s jubilation over its first qualification for football’s World Cup is overshadowed by news of the death of Leopold Sedar Senghor, the republic’s legendary first president.

The novel’s main character is an Austrian camera assistant called Martin “Chi” Tschirner, who arrives in Dakar on a promotional job for the soft drink giant Coca Cola.

“It’s a fast paced adventure that starts as a job, develops into an involuntary journey and culminates in a reflection about the possibilities and limits of cross-cultural understanding,” explains Florian Ledermann, a software engineer at the Vienna University of Technology, who worked with Benda on the project.

Benda and Ledermann began collaborating to “geo-annotate” Benda’s novel began about one-and-a-half years ago.

“We wanted to add something to the story that helps readers – especially as the story is set in an unfamiliar environment – to envision the mood of the story without illustrating it,” says Ledermann.

“The satellite images provided by Google Maps do not constrain the reader’s imagination but are capable of actually triggering imagination by giving a rough impression without too much detail.”

Benda says that as a newbie author, the project to geo-annotate Senghor on the Rocks appealed to him because of the experimental nature of the format.

“I am pretty sure that we met a much wider audience – in terms of media coverage as well as readers or at least interested people – than we ever could have found with a ‘classical’ print publication,” he says.

The launch this year by Amazon of the internet-connected Kindle electronic book reader, means that it may not be too long before geo-referenced publications hit the mainstream.

Google Maps hack turns book into geo-novel, Sydney Morning Herald

A Scanner Darkly: The Kaufman Version

POV of someone skimming a hand-written entry. The corresponding voice-over is offhand, dispassionate. In the background, children can be heard laughing and playing.

Lately, Jerry Fabin stands all day shaking bugs from his hair. The doctor says there are no bugs in his hair.

The sound of fingers scratching scalp begins and grows louder through the following montage.



A massive, unlit Coca-Cola sign is eerily silhouetted against the early morning sky. Antiquated delivery trucks set out from loading docks, as red futuristic cargo planes, emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo, take off from the roof.

Birds-eye view of Coca-Cola trucks spreading out through the city. Coke planes shoot by close to the camera.

EXT. 7-11 – DAWN
A Coke truck pulls into the parking lot.

A Coke plane lands gracefully on the roof of the supermarket.

Uniformed delivery men enter, hauling cases of Coke syrup.

A Coca-Cola truck rumbles slowly past a row of low-income, plastic pre-fab houses. We hold on one house whose front lawn is strewn with furniture and cleaning products.

The windows are spray-painted over with silver paint. A single pole lamp with bare, harsh spot-lights illuminates the room, which is emptied of furniture, covered in a sickly green shag carpet, and littered with fast-food wrappers. in green shag carpet, and littered with fast-food wrappers.In the center of the room stands Jerry Fabin, thirty, with wildeyes and a long, tangled mass of hair. He is naked, draped over a metal garbage can, and vigorously scratching his head. This process continues for an uncomfortably long time. A Golden Retriever sleeps in the corner.


The Pitch: An adaptation of the Philip K. (Bladerunner) Dick novel. It’s about an undercover narc cop whose constant lying and own drug use start blurring his realities. He develops a split-personality (cop vs. addict) and, as a cop, begins surveilling his drug-dealer identity. And then it gets complicated. But of course. Charlie’s script is unproduced. (Richard Linklater eventually directed the film, using his own adaptation.) .

Being Charlie


The aim of this paper is to examine the film Adaptation (Jonze, 2002) and its relationship to the structure of narrative fiction [the novel form]. To do this, I’m asking three questions: what is it and where did it come from – that is, what’s are the film and screenwriter’s histories, what genre does the film belong to and what other films and narratives are related to it? – and, finally, what does its narrative shape look like? a question that examines the film structure, voice over and micronarrative devices used in the film.

What Is It?

Adaptation is the second of three collaborations between the director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. The first was Being John Malkovich (1999), the second was Adaptation and a third is currently in production. Kaufman, born in 1958, is also the screenwriter of two films directed by Michel Gondry, Human Nature (2001) and Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004). A fifth film, Confessions of Dangerous Mind (2002) was written by Kaufman and directed by George Clooney. Prior his film work, Kaufman worked as a TV writer/producer on Ned & Stacey and The Dana Carvey Show.

The narrative of the film is thematically concerned with the characters attempts to engage with their passions and desires, primarily love, acceptance and fulfillment. There are three parallel stories that illustrate the theme: the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is attempting to adapt the book The Orchid Thief into a screenplay called Adaptation while, in flashback, we see the author of the book, Susan Orlean, struggling with her life as a writer for The New Yorker and her attempts to write the third story, set inside a further flashback, of John Laroche and his attempts to construct meaning in his life through a series of increasingly manic obsessions.

Each of these three stories is beset with complications: Kaufman’s life is loveless, depressed and professionally unfulfilled. His live-in brother Donald is his antithesis; gauche, naïve and although an aspiring scriptwriter, his work commercial and lacks artistic merit. Orlean, meanwhile, must contend with the emptiness of her life, her loveless marriage and her desire to engage as strongly as Laroche does with orchids. Meanwhile Laroche is aware of his manic obsessiveness and although he professes to be the smartest person he knows, he is powerless to change.

There is also a framing device in the narrative where Kaufman attempts to tell these stories. His brother, a symbol of his divided personality, is writing a parallel script that is a shallow echo of the main themes of Adaptation, using familiar Hollywood tropes to mock the high art seriousness of Charlie’s story, while reinforcing the sub themes of solipsistic self-awareness and uncertainty.

The film makes discursive detours from the main plot to illustrate these failed attempts at story telling as well as using a complicated multiple flashback structure that is signaled with subtitles such as “Three Years Earlier.” The narrative has a fractured quality and appears to have little forward momentum until Charlie admits that there is no story to the story and turns first to screenwriting guru Robert McKee and then to his brother to figure out how Adaptation will end. At this point the film takes another diversion by enacting an entirely bogus conclusion to the narrative which has been foreshadowed throughout, and which the viewer knows is false. The character of Donald is killed off, reuniting within Charlie both sides of his personality and, after he has declared his love for Amelia, he admits that it feels right. The end.

In the research for this paper while looking over online bibliographies, it was interesting to note how often the term ‘metafiction’ kept cropping up. And it wasn’t just in the usual places. Metafiction was used in articles on the film in The Guardian, The Observer, Sight & Sound from the UK and The New York Times and The New Yorker in the US, but also in surprising places such as Newsweek and USA Today . Like the phrase “post modernity” it seems that metafiction is now mainstream. So what is it, this metafiction?

A useful working definition of metafiction is a fiction that “deals playfully and self-referentially with writing or its conventions.” The term dates back to the early 1970s and the work of various academics theorizing the rise of self-reflexive fictions, in particular William H. Gass who is credited with coining the term in 1973. In Patricia Waugh’s 1984 book Metafiction: the Theory and Practice of self-conscious fiction the author identified reoccurring motifs and techniques used by writers that include:

• creating biographies of imaginary writers
• presenting and discussing fictional works of an imaginary character
• intruding to comment on writing
• involving his or herself with fictional characters
• rejecting conventional plot
• subverting conventions to transform ‘reality’ into a highly suspect concept
• displaying reflexivity

If we are to measure Adaptation by these common features of metafiction, then it is clearly and unequivocally a work of filmic metafiction. It uses all these techniques and combines them with other narrative devices. The character of Donald Kaufman is an imaginary writer, the alter ego of the fictionalised Charlie Kaufman; Donald’s work, a script within a script called The 3, is discussed both on its own terms and in relation to the script that is being written by Charlie, the film that we are seeing; the voice over narration provides a commentary on the progress of the story, foregrounding later developments, as well as intruding on what appears at first to be reality, but is later revealed to be imaginary; the plot, although following a three act structure, rejects a normal narrative causality and, by doing so; subverts the ending of the film, foregrounding the artificiality of the entire construct.

Another curious feature of the reviews and articles on Adaptation at the time of its release were the continual discussions of the film’s main conceit that there was no real Donald Kaufman. It was repeatedly stated that he was the invention of Charlie Kaufman. Another reoccurring subject was that the fictional Kaufman bore little relation to the fictionalised version played by Nicolas Cage. This documentation of the films metafictional devices was not limited to ‘hip’ sources only, such as the review at online sources such as , but also from more trade oriented sources as this extract from American Cinematographer demonstrates:

“Try keeping this straight: Adaptation is a movie about a screenplay writer named Charlie Kaufman, who’s struggling to come up with a film script for a movie called Adaptation, which is based on The Orchid Thief, a book by New Yorker author Susan Orleans about John Laroche, a real-life orchid collector in Florida. Kaufman, the actual author of Adaptation, is portrayed by Nicolas Cage. Kaufman the character has a fictitious identical twin named Donald, also played by Cage. There are flashbacks within flashbacks, and if that’s not enough, the film’s opening scene apparently takes place on the set of Being John Malkovich — which was directed by Spike Jonze, who also helmed Adaptation.”

For viewers not already familiar with Kaufman and Jones and going to see the film off the back of its many positive notices, the prevalence of these kinds of explanatory previews and reviews had the result of creating an audience that was primed to understand the fictional conceits of the movie’s narrative structure. For those who had seen Being John Malkovich, it was familiar territory. As Philip French wrote in The Guardian:

“Although Nicolas Cage gives a marvelous sense of reality to the often hilarious scenes between the twins, one suspects or infers that Donald is Charlie’s extrovert, go-getting doppelganger. Donald, a stranger to irony, uses Hollywood argot like ‘pitch’ and ‘industry’ that causes the discriminating Charlie to flinch: he makes successful passes at girls that Charlie secretly envies and sees no harm in the most egregious professional compromise.”

French may have also noted that, aside from the suspicions or inferences drawn by the audience, few audience members would be unaware that Nicolas Cage does not have an identical twin brother. Although the character of Donald is part of the story of Adaptation, we already know that he does not exist in either the real world or the fictive world of the film narrative.

We are left to ponder the question of how the on-screen twinning was achieved. The answer was special effects using computers, lighting doubles and Cage’s cousin, Marc Coppola. It is the film’s second grand conceit, that the actor not only plays versions of himself, but also versions of the characters as imagined by the screenwriter. Wanting to extend the conceit further, the filmmakers credited Donald as a co-writer of the film, quoted his script The 3 at the end of the credits, added a “in loving memory” valediction, had him nominated along with Charlie Kaufman for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and he was given a biography on the Adaptation DVD. It was a conceit that extended far beyond the film itself, out into the media and into the minds of cinema goers. It was the ultimate metafictional device.

Where does it come from?

At one point early in Adaptation Donald asks Charlie what genre his script is in. He gets no answer. Later, discussing McKee’s advice to writers, Donald says he’s going to include a song in his film The 3:

Hey, Charles, I’m putting a song in. “Happy Together.” Like when characters sing pop songs in their pajamas and dance around. I thought it’d be a nice way to break the tension. At first I was nervous about putting a song in a thriller, but Bob says that Casablanca, one of the greatest screenplays ever written, did exactly that. Mixed genres.

Adaptation doesn’t appear at first to sit easily within any genre, perhaps a mixture of the writer film (e.g. Barton Fink (1991), Wonder Boys (2000), the ironically aware pop culture film (e.g. Pulp Fiction (1994), Scream (1996), Train Spotting (1996)) or the twin film (e.g. Dead Ringers (1988), Raising Cain (1992), Ring 0, (2000)). Although Adaptation shares a sense of irony, intertextual and metafictional playfulness common to many contemporary films – and one need go no further than the work of writer/directors Quentin Tarnatino or Kevin Smith for films with distinct similarities, an arch knowingness and genre-raiding disdain for strict taxonomies – Adaptation seems isolated from most contemporary cinema. If one might use an analogy from literature, Adaptation positions itself as a work of literary fiction while movies like The Matrix (1999) are unabashed genre pictures.

In an article in Sight & Sound, the writer Henry Bean connected Adaptation to movies about screenwriters, comparing Adaptation to Paris – When It Sizzles (1963), an Audrey Hepburn, William Holden comedy as an illustration of the dilemmas of writers, both fictional and real. Bean also discusses the fragmentary nature of Adaptation and sees in it a trend from the last decade of filmmaking:

“In recent years, commercial films have begun to adopt unexpected formal devices from the other arts. Se7en (1995) replaces the thriller’s action sequences with what amounts to a series of gallery installations; The Usual Suspects (1995) translates the unreliable narrator from literature to the crime film. Adaptation tries something even more radical: it creates a protagonist who, like those of countless modern novels, imagines everything and does almost nothing.”

Robert McKee writing in an afterword in the printed version of the script compares Kaufman to the great canon of 20th century modernists

“Charlie Kaufman is an old-fashioned Modernist. He writes in the palaeo-avant-garde tradition that runs from the dream plays of Strindberg and inner monologues of Proust through the tortured identities in Pirandello and the paranoia of Kafka to the rush of subjectivities in Wolfe, Joyce, Faulkner, Beckett, and Bergman—that grand twentieth-century preoccupation with the Self.”

In film, one might also consider Sunset Boulevard (1950), a film about a writer struggling with a script for a film that will most likely never be made, a story of unrequited love that ends with the death of the writer and has a voiceover coming from the ultimate location of the omniscient narrator, heaven. A case could also be made for significant similarities between Adaptation and Fight Club (1999). Both films feature a fractured, discursive narrative structure, a divided main character rendered as two people, an archly knowing reflexivity, intertextual jokes and violent denouement that may or may not have happened.

But Adaptation’s main characteristics are primarily shared by the fantasy genre. In recent work by academics such as Damien Broderick , there has been an ongoing examination of what constitutes fantasy fiction . Broderick’s argument is that fantasy is identifiable by its use of methods of cognitive estrangement in creating fictive realities. For example, in a realist fiction, a man regrets his past actions and remembers a wrong he has done to a friend. To remedy the situation the man contacts the friend and makes amends. In a fantasy version of that story, the main character discovers a way to literally travel in time to the past event, to change the past event by stopping it from happening and rectifying the present. Fantasy fiction and cinema makes a metaphor like memory into something literal like time travel and our estrangement from the normal cognitive perception of time is violated. This estrangement can also extend to alternate fictive realities that are rendered as surreal, super real, retrospective or reflexive.

This use of cognitive estrangement and the literalising of metaphors is a constant in Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays. In Being John Malkovich, a film about the pliability of identity, the metaphor of another consciousness and identity as a mirror to individuality is literalised in the form of a tunnel that enables one character to enter the head of another character. In The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a story about love and memory, the concept of remembrance is literalised in the form of a machine that can wipe selected memories of the main characters past failed romance. In Confessions of a Dangerous Mind the main character’s misgivings for his past behaviour are literalised into a story where he “confesses” his double life as a spy. Human Nature’s examination of the meaning of language is underscored by a plethora of random snippets of dialogue that seem to make little sense while literalising the metaphor for the meaning of language in the form of a man raised as an ape who is taught to speak but who cannot understand. And finally, in Adaptation, the main location of cognitive estrangement is the creation of alter egos and identities; there is the real Kaufman outside the film, the fictionalised version inside, his fake brother both in and outside the film, the versions of real people in the movie and the foregrounding of the fake ending.

These kinds of identity games are also a feature of contemporary fantasy cinema. The Matrix (1999-2003) trilogy is one particular example of multiple identities, layered realities and a character attempting to reunite his divided selves. There are also similarities between Adaptation and Kaufman’s other movies and more hard core SF films such as Total Recall (1990), Minority Report (2002) and Paycheck (2003) – all films that deal with identity, layered realities and memory and are all narratives that make extensive use of methods of cognitive estrangement and literalised metaphors.

Of course, all these films are based on the work of the novelist Philip K. Dick and it should come as no surprise that Charlie Kaufman is the author of a screenplay for an unproduced version of Dick’s A Scanner Darkly whose main character is Fred, a cop who is pursuing a criminal named Bob. What Fred doesn’t know is that he is in fact Bob as well as being Fred; he is both cop and criminal. In Adaptation, Donald’s script covers almost identical territory. As he explains to Charlie his film is about a cop chasing a serial killer who holds a girl prisoner in his basement:

It’s a little obvious, don’t you think?

Okay, but here’s the twist. We find out that the killer really suffers from multiple personality disorder. Right? See, he’s actually really the cop and the girl. All of them are him! Isn’t that fucked up?!

Although couched within ostensibly realist settings, Kaufman’s screenplays seem to be removed from broader genre movies, but upon closer examination his work owes a considerable debt to fantasy fiction and cinema.

What does it look like?

To look at the way Adaptation is structured, let’s first look at the wider story and then at the smaller elements.

What Marty, Charlie Kaufman’s agent, has to say of Donald’s script is equally true of the real Charlie Kaufman – he’s goddamned amazing at structure. The film at macro level follows a classic three part structure, book-ended by an introduction and postscript. The broad structure follows:

Introduction – we meet Charlie inside his head as he obsesses over his life and meet the rest of the immediate cast of characters then, Part one – Charlie is given the job of adapting the Orchid Thief into a script and begins the process; Part two – Charlie discovers that there is no way to adapt the book as a stand-alone narrative and introduces himself into the story before quickly realizing that the story has no satisfying ending and, as his desperation mounts, he heads for a crisis and possible breakdown; Part three – he seeks the advice of McKee and Donald who advise him to put in another story which he then does, leading to a Hollywood thriller style dénouement. The Postscript is the meeting between Charlie and his true love Amelia where he declares his love and then realises the ending of the script should be him realising how to finish the script.

As mentioned previously, the first two thirds of Adaptation seem to be aimless and although with plenty of visual interest in the form of montages (the evolution of life on Earth, Darwin hypothesising the evolution of the orchid, insects pollinating orchids and other dramatised snippets from Orlean’s book) there seems to be little forward momentum. This more than anything led some critics to conclude that the film was irritating. Others went a lot further over the sudden turn into parody at the end: Stanley Kaufman writing in the New Republic gave the film one it’s few negative reviews comparing the film to Federico Fellini’s and finding it wanting.

“The reminder of Fellini is hard on Kaufman. 8½ is a masterwork about the difficulties of making art in our time. It is directed and acted and shot and scored with genius. Kaufman’s film, in every detail […] is an account of Nibelungs moiling away underground, mistaking pyrites for gold.”

One can forgive Stanley Kaufman and other critics for having such a harsh view of the film – despite the privilege of seeing the film with accompanying explanatory notes – they must commit their opinion to paper within a few days or weeks of seeing the film for the first time. After repeat viewings, however, my original opinion of Adaptation changed as I examined the first two thirds and discovered that, apart from the deftly realised macro-structure, the detail within supported, reinforced and advanced every aspect of the greater themes.

How did Charlie Kaufman achieve this? As pointed out previously, the techniques include mirroring and framing on multiple levels in both the characterizations and the individual story components. There are the people who are mirrored: Charlie and Donald – Laroche, Orlean and McKee in real life with their counterparts in the film – the script as it exists (resulting in the film that we see), the script as it is being written and the parallel script written by Donald. There is also extensive visual mirroring: cuts between Kaufman and Orlean both writing, Kaufman obsessing over the picture of Orlean and Amelia, people driving cars, people on telephones etc.

The structural metafictional framing of the film extends into the dialogue of the characters. Just a few examples, Charlie explains to Valerie the film executive in the second scene of the movie what will happen:


[…] I’d want to let the movie exist, rather than be artificially plot driven.


I guess I’m not exactly sure what that means.


Oh. I’m…I’m not sure I know what that means, either. Y’know, I just don’t want to ruin it by making it a Hollywood thing. You know? Like an orchid heist movie or something, or, y’know, changing the orchids into poppies and turning it into a movie about drug running, you know?

And that is precisely what happens in Adaptation as does Valerie’s subsequent suggestion that Orlean and Laroche fall in love. Elsewhere, the use of the song Happy Together provides the ironic commentary on the ultimate reuniting of the two halves of Charlie and Donald, there is the constant questions from the character of John Laroche of who will play him in the movie version spoken by the actor playing him in the movie. There is also the continuous reinforcement of Charlie’s solipsistic dilemma in both visual terms (hyper-stylised montages illustrating his words as they are spoken) along with more obvious references such as the conversation about Donald’s girlfriend’s tattoo – a snake swallowing its own tail.

For a primarily visual medium, Adaptation seems unusually circumscribed by words, both as speech and written text. As Henry Bean points out in his Sight & Sound article the film is an “orgy of voiceovers”:

“Not only Charlie’s endless, self-flagellating, self-absorbed monologues that constitute the core of the film, but also Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) reading voiceover passages from her book […] John Laroche (Chris Cooper), narrating episodes from his own life down the phone. Even an aged Charles Darwin, scratching away with a quill pen, ruminates on the ascent of man. We hear the voices, watch the characters writing, see the words they have written, typed, printed in books, underlined, highlighted, crowded with marginal notes – an endless flood of speaking and writing.”

This tendency reaches its apogee in a montage where the film follows Kaufman’s words into a loop of images each leading down to another level and repeating the same images as they are narrated again. It seems that the film cannot break away from the tyranny of words. Adaptation’s hyper prolixity isn’t a unique feature to filmic metafiction, or to a sampling of recent metafictional novels such as the works of Dave Eggers’ And You Will Know Our Velocity and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Thomas Pynchon’s V, Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho or Don De Lillo’s Underworld.

There are three notable exceptions to this imperative of language in Adaptation – the almost wordless fantasy of Charlie following the café waitress around to the back of the flower show, the car crash which kills Laroche’s mother and uncle, as well as the ending where the film bursts into Happy Together, a soundtrack to a week-long time exposure of flowers blooming in a Los Angeles street. For me at least, these were the moments of story telling with image.

In conclusion, there are two final points to make.

The first is that while Adaptation is supremely well crafted, concise and full of interest for repeat examinations, the film does have one flaw. Perhaps it was intentional, or perhaps it was an oversight, but the hermetic tightness of the plot is violated in one glaring instance. Early in the film, Susan Orlean visits Laroche’s nursery where she meets an Indian named Matthew. His behaviour is odd. He first complements her on her hair and then says he can see her sadness before wandering away saying that he will no longer speak to her because “it is the Indian way.” The explanation for this behaviour comes at the end of the film in the last third where Orlean realises that Matthew’s odd behaviour was the result of the hallucinogenic drug that the Indians concoct from the Ghost Orchid plant. But if the ending of the film is a construct of the imagination of Charlie Kaufman, the Hollywood ending, and the beginning was the “real” story, then how can that be the explanation? Is the end of the film retrospectively violating the meaning of the early scene or is this another way of exposing the artificiality of the construct? Perhaps the explanation is that we never left the blackness of Charlie’s head at any time in the film?

The second and final point is that the most charming aspect of Adaptation is that the authors know that words only have a limited use. When Charlie and Donald are discussing how they would make the script of The 3 and its multiple characters (who are all the same person) work, Charlie eventually runs out of words, out of meaning:


The other thing is, there’s no way to write this. Did you consider that? I mean, how could you have somebody held in a basement and working in a police station at the same time?


Trick photography?


Okay, that’s not what I’m asking. Listen closely. What I’m asking is, in the reality of this movie, where there’s only one character, right? Okay? How could you…. What, what exactly would….



During the early days of atomic bomb experiments in the 1940s, nuclear weapons scientists had some difficulty studying the growth of nuclear fireballs in test detonations. These fireballs expanded so rapidly that even the best cameras of that time were unable to capture anything more than a blurry, over-exposed frame for the first several seconds of the explosion.

Before long a professor of electrical engineering from MIT named Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton invented the rapatronic camera, a device capable of capturing images from the fleeting instant directly following a nuclear explosion. These single-use cameras were able to snap a photo one ten-millionth of a second after detonation from about seven miles away, with an exposure time of as little as ten nanoseconds. At that instant, a typical fireball had already reached about 100 feet in diameter, with temperatures three times hotter than the surface of the sun.

Edgerton was a pioneer in high-speed photography, receiving a bronze medal from the Royal Photographic Society in 1934 for his work in strobe photography. He used the technique to photograph many events that typical cameras were much too slow to capture, such as the instant of a balloon bursting, and bullets impacting various materials. He developed the rapatronic camera about ten years later, for the specific purpose of photographing nuclear explosions for the government.

n a typical setup at a nuclear test site, a series of ten or so rapatronic cameras were necessary, because each was able to take only one photograph… no mechanical film advance system was anywhere neat fast enough to allow for a second photo. Another mechanical limitation which had to be overcome was the shutter mechanism. Mechanical shutters were incapable of moving quickly enough to capture the instant one ten-millionth of a second after detonation, so Edgerton’s ingenious cameras used a unique non-mechanical shutter which utilized the polarization of light.

From Damn