The most enjoyable adaptation of a book is either “Adaptation” or “A Beautiful Mind,” for similar but disparate reasons, as will become clear below.
“The Orchid Thief,” Susan Orleans’ novel/essay/what the heck is it anyway/book is what I would have thought to have been impossible to turn into a movie. There is no plot in the book, not in the normal sense of the word.
It is, I think, Ms. Orleans’ attempt to explain or discover passion. I met her once at a writer’s conference and talked with her. She was amused that the movie had her having an affair with LaRouche—I guess you can say or publish pretty much anything about anybody these days, but then, she probably got paid for the abuse, so all is fair, I guess.
I say “discover” because often writers have trouble understanding how they themselves feel about anything. I don’t know if she actually feels this way or not, I met her only the one time and talked only briefly with her, but the book is spellbinding.
And while I think Ms. Orleans is attractive, the one thing about her which struck me is how diminutive she is, whereas Streep seems, well, like Merly Streep.
In the book, Susan is trying to understand John LaRouche, the Orchid Thief himself, to learn what makes him tick. She is amazed at his serial passions: fish, then plants (including orchids, and near the end, the internet itself) and wonders what it would be like to feel as passionate about anything as does LaRouche.
I doubt anyone other than Charlie Kaufman could have written the script. And while the movie deals with Kaufman’s trouble writing the screenplay on the surface, what he is really doing is trying to understand Orleans’ book and to be true to it. Which he almost does, but, regardless of the movie character Kaufman’s reticence to go Hollywood and stick in drugs, sex, chases, the actual writer, the live Kaufman, of course puts them in.
The book is one of my ten favorite non-classics and I have more than one copy, a first edition which Ms. Orleans signed for me after telling me she no longer owned any of her first edition copies of it, and a paperback reading copy which is dog-earned and full of underlines.
A lot, an awful lot of Nash’s personality and personal life is left out of the movie. The Nash of the book, which I take to be more like the real Nash (I have not met him, so I am guessing), is not a very likeable person, not because of his inability to interact with the rest of humanity but because of how he interacted with the people—his odd compulsions, and his very dysfunctional personal life.
Beginning in 1951 onwards, Nash had an on-going affair with a nurse, with whom he had child named John David Stier. He never married her.
In 1951, Nash went to MIT as an instructor, where he met and later married a student. Their son, John Charles Martin Nash, remained nameless for a year because his mother felt that Nash should be a party to naming his son.
I think the Nash of the movie was more loveable and charismatic (thank you Ron Howard and Russell Crowe).
In the book Nash sees aliens while the movie shows him believing he is working for the CIA as a spy.
The movie whitewashes or outright ignores Nash’s personal problems and the cruelties he endured trying to deal with his mental illness in the real world. But the way Howard told the story was probably the only way the story could be told and have anyone sit through it and it did an incredible job of delving into the genius/madness connection, and love. Always love.