Adaptation and Donald Kaufman’s Optimism

Last night I rented “Adaptation,” for the second time. I really need to buy this movie.

It made me laugh because as a writer, I completely relate to Charlie Kaufman.

I’m not as extreme as he is– I don’t have paralyzing social anxiety. When I stay home, it’s because I enjoy some time alone rather than because I can’t talk to people. I’m in sales! It’s all about talking. Sometimes I just want a break from it. But Charlie can’t focus on what he’s writing– he can’t make a decision and devise any structure. He puts down all his ideas– the only reason he’s unpublished is because he puts himself down and feels his ideas are worthless. It’s his own fear that defeats him. He starts over and over, discards each try, and never turns in anything. He has a female friend who obviously is attracted to him, yet he never makes a move because he assumes he’s not appealing to her. I date– but it’s not often that I feel enough of a connection to want a relationship. Usually some time passes in between for me.

Yet, Charlie is a natural talent. His problem is his attitude.

His twin brother, Donald, also seems like a loser. He lives with Charlie, unable to get motivated to support himself. He spends most of their conversations lying on the floor because his back hurts too much. He is constantly seeking Charlie’s approval on ideas, always asking his advice. Charlie is permanently surly, but that doesn’t bother Donald. Yet, his natural talent is not writing– but optimism. He attends a three-day workshop for screen-writing, and vigorously applies what he learns. He writes and SELLS a screenplay before Charlie has even found an angle! He chooses to see life as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle. He is open to intimacy and develops a relationship with a woman on a movie set Charlie is involved with. She’s the make-up artist. They have a sweet relationship and she enjoys his affection and being his muse. Where Charlie is awkward, Donald is charming and confident.

Ultimately, Donald saves Charlie’s screenplay adaptation– the driving conflict of the movie. His insight is what allows Charlie to see the whole story and find a structure, to bring the characters to life.

But my favorite part about Donald is near the end of the movie. Charlie and Donald are huddled together, their life in danger. And they resort to small talk, reminiscing about high school. Charlie reflects on Donald’s everlasting happiness, which confounds him. He asks why he could still be so HAPPY about loving a woman who was indifferent to him? Worse, immediately after talking to him and acting as if she liked him, she immediately cut him down to a female friend. Charlie assumed that Donald didn’t know about this– otherwise, how could he still like her?

Charlie: “How come  you looked so happy?”

Donald: “I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.”

Charlie: “But she thought you were pathetic.”

Donald: “That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. I decided that a long time ago.”

I used to be like Charlie– closed to intimacy. It was a product of my youth. It took me a long time to love myself enough to allow anyone else to love me. I used to push people away. I used to see only the differences, the negative– not possibilities.

We all need to be more like Donald. And I realized that finally, I have become more like him. I’ve largely let go of the bitterness of my relationship history. Sure, there is still some sadness– because I miss those men and am sorry for hurting them as well. But in the end, it doesn’t matter if they matched my feelings or not. The joy I found in those relationships, and the pain– that’s mine. I cherish it, all of it. They all helped me to grow.

With each relationship, my heart cracked a little wider. If I hurt more, it’s because I had opened myself up more– and I’m proud of that. I have come a long way from the girl who was too shy to even tell her boyfriend how she felt, in the security of a relationship.

I’ve become a woman who can take risks without security– and enjoy possibility.

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2 comments on “Adaptation and Donald Kaufman’s Optimism

  1. judiepalmer1 says:

    Good for you! Like this writing:) Aunt Judie

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