Subjectivity, Desire, and the Impossibility of Neutrality in Adaptation (2002)

Jack Finucane, Laurent Shervington

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Adaptation (2002) is a film directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, chronicling a part-real, part-fiction retelling of Kaufman’s own experience adapting Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief (1998). Jonze and Kaufman’s film is told in a multi-layered and almost surrealist style, prompting film critic Roger Ebert to posit that ‘to watch the film is to be actively involved in the challenge of its creation.’ Due to its highly fragmented and metanarrative structure, the film appears replete with philosophical significance, provoking several studies on the film’s engagement with postmodernism, metafiction and the process of adaptation. While these elements form a major part of the film’s narrative and subtextual composition, another seemingly uncommented upon tendency is the critique the film levels at the concept of neutrality. In the context of this article, neutrality is defined as a certain orientation that involves the erasure of bias or desire, along with a simultaneous investment in an ideal of objectivity. Such a concern forms a major part of the character Charlie’s (based upon Kaufman himself) struggle, with his own aspirations towards remaining separated and distanced from his creative work also framing his relationships with other characters. What is at stake within this meditation on neutrality is the status of subjectivity, that is to say, the imprint of one’s own desires upon the world around them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-61
JournalLimina, A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2022
EventLimina Journal Annual Conference 2020/21: Adaptation in the Humanities - University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
Duration: 30 Sept 20212 Oct 2022


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