Celebrate Emerson with a movie.


“Why should I be made to feel I have to apologize for my existence?” — Charlie Kaufman

“Adaptation is a profound process. It means you figure out how to thrive in the world.” — John Laroche


A look at the movie “Adaptation” and some parallel ideas about Emerson as found in “God in Concord.”

Charlie Kaufman’s voice-over during the opening credits of "Adaptation” reveals a man who is NOT thriving in his environment, not even in his own head. Human beings are the only animal that can attack itself in this fashion. We might call it the total antithesis of adaptation.

Charlie Kaufman: Do I have an original thought in my head? My bald head. Maybe if I were happier my hair wouldn't be falling out. Life is short. I need to make the most of it. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I'm a walking cliché. I really need to go to the doctor and have my leg checked. There's something wrong. A bump. The dentist called again. I'm way overdue. If I stop putting things off I would be happier. All I do is sit on my fat ass. If my ass wasn't fat I would be happier. I wouldn't have to wear these shirts with the tails out all the time. Like that's fooling anyone. Fat ass. I should start jogging again. Five miles a day. Really do it this time. Maybe rock climbing. I need to turn my life around. What do I need to do? I need to fall in love. I need to have a girlfriend. I need to read more and improve myself. What if I learned Russian or something, or took up an instrument. I could speak Chinese. I'd be the screenwriter who speaks Chinese and plays the oboe. That would be cool. I should get my hair cut short. Stop trying to fool myself and everyone else into thinking I have a full head of hair. How pathetic is that. Just be real. Confident. Isn't that what women are attracted to? Men don't have to be attractive. But that's not true. Especially these days. Almost as much pressure on men as there is on women these days. Why should I be made to feel I have to apologize for my existence? Maybe it's my brain chemistry. Maybe that's what's wrong with me. Bad chemistry. All my problems and anxiety can be reduced to a chemical imbalance or some kind of misfiring synapses. I need to get help for that. But I'll still be ugly though. Nothing's going to change that.

• • •

Early scene with movie executive, Valerie (Tilda Swinton).

Valerie: So, tell me your thoughts on this crazy little project of ours. (Making “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean into a movie.)

Charlie: First, I think it’s a great book.

Valerie: Laroche is a fun character.

Charlie: Absolutely.

Charlie sees the book as “great, sprawling ‘New Yorker’ stuff, and I’d want to remain true to that, you know … I’d want to let the movie exist rather than be artificially plot driven.”

Valerie: Great! (frowns)… I guess I’m not exactly sure what that means.

Charlie: Oh! … I’m not sure I know what that means either. … I just don’t want to ruin it by making it a Hollywood thing, you know, like, like, an orchid heist movie, or something, you know, or changing the orchids into poppies and turning it into a movie about drug running, you know. Why can’t there be a movie simply about flowers?

Valerie: I guess we thought that maybe Susan Orlean and Laroche could fall in love. And …

Charlie: But it’s like I’m saying, I don't want to cram in sex or guns or car chases or characters, you know, learning profound life lessons or growing, or coming to like each other, or overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end. The book isn't like that, and life isn't like that, it just isn't. And … I feel very strongly about this.

Charlie is underestimating his powers of adaptation. But then, he would.


The scene with John Laroche and Susan Orlean at an orchid show:

Laroche: The point is, what’s so wonderful is that every one of these flowers has a specific relationship with the insect that pollinates it. A certain orchid looks like a certain insect, so the insect is drawn to this flower, its double, its soul mate. It wants nothing more than to make love to it. And after, the insect flies off and spots another soul-mate flower and makes love to it, thus pollinating it. And neither the flower nor the insect will ever understand the significance of their lovemaking. And how could they know that because of their little dance the world lives. It does. By simply by doing what they’re designed to do, something large and magnificent happens. In this sense they show us how to live, how the only barometer you have is your heart. How when you spot your flower, you can’t let anything get in your way.

Orlean thinks to herself later: I suppose I do have one unembarrassing passion. I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.




Emerson writing in a pre-Darwin world: "The method of nature, who could even analyze it? That rushing stream will not stop to be observed. … The bird hastens to lay her egg; the egg hastens to be a bird. The wholeness we admire in the order of the world is the result of distribution. Its smoothness is the smoothness of the pitch of the cataract."

E: "Everything is an emanation, and from every emanation is a new emanation and that from which it emanates is an emanation also. If anything could stand still, it would be instantly crushed and dissipated by the torrent which it resisted, and if it were a mind, would be crazed."

"Here is Emerson’s position on the issue. The Mind and the Soul are part of the great law of the cosmos and are both universal in aspect and function. The Great Consciousness, or Over-Soul, pervades matter, animating it with life and infusing it with the potential for personal transformation. The human being is the best transformational organ on the planet. … Limitation consists in an unwillingness to perceive or an inability to awaken sufficiently to progress. Endowment in this arena is ubiquitous but unequal."

The scene where Orlean interviews Laroche as they drive along in his battered van:

Orlean: So, how many turtles did you end up collecting?

Laroche: Oh, I lost interest right after that.

Orlean: Oh.

Laroche: I dropped turtles when I fell in love with Ice Age fossils. Collected the shit out of 'em! Fossils where the only thing that made sense to me in this fucked up world. Ditched fossils for resilvering old mirrors. Mom and I had the largest collection of 19th Century Dutch mirrors on the planet. Perhaps you read about us? "Mirror World" October ’88. I have a copy here somewhere.

Orlean: I guess I’d just like to know how you can detach from something you’ve invested so much of your soul in. I mean, didn’t you ever miss turtles, (looks at her notes) “the only thing that made your 10-year-old life worth living?”

Laroche: Look, I’ll tell you a story, all right? I once fell deeply — you know profoundly — in love with tropical fish. Had 60 goddamn fish tanks in my house. I skin-dived to find just the right ones. Anisotremus virginicus, Holacanthus ciliaris, Chaetodon capistratus. You name it. Then one day I said,“Fuck fish! I renounce fish! I’ll never set foot in that ocean again.” That’s how much “fuck fish!” That was 17 years ago, and I have never since stuck so much as a toe in that ocean. And I love the ocean!

Orlean: But why?

Laroche shrugs: Done with fish!


Then we see Charlie reading from “The Orchid Thief.” Orlean voice-over:

If you really loved something, wouldn’t a little bit of it linger? Evidently, Laroche’s finishes were downright and absolute; he just moved on. I sometimes wished I could do the same.











G: Emerson tells us "we are all part of the great Diaspora, set free from deadly tradition and the boundaries of race, religion, and even culture to become children of the planet … or the universe. If a myth or a tradition is able to expand to these dimensions, then it may have a place in our journey. If not, it must be abandoned. … Emerson’s abandonment was the escape from false ties and the courage to be what he was and might become. Writing was the proper expression of his genius. In it, he continued his abandonment by insisting on being true to his moments of inspiration, wherever they led. His refusal to debate the issues that emerged from his writing was his affirmation of their authenticity."

Emerson’s great thesis is that we are one with the laws of the universe.

Let man not resist the law of his mind and he will be filled with the divinity which flows through all things.


G: "We are told that protection from the powers of darkness, from death itself, is found only in obedience to the genius which calls. To do anything else — to explain, to justify — is deadly. We all hope, of course, that our abandonment is better than Whim at last, but we can never be sure."






Emerson was interested in human self-recovery, in restoring to every human being a measure of the strength and insight to which our natural evolution entitles us.

E: “I am an endless seeker with no past at my back.”








Sometime later we find Orlean and Laroche riding in the van again.

He’s telling her about the time he opened a nursery. The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” plays softly on the radio.

Laroche: You know why I like plants? Because they’re so mutable. Adaptation is a profound process. It means you figure out how to thrive in the world.

Orlean: Yeah, but it’s easier for plants. I mean, they have no memories. They just move on to whatever’s next. But for a person … adapting’s almost shameful. It’s like running away.




"There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees. … The law dissolves the fact and holds it fluid."

E: "I am of the oldest religion. Leaving aside the question which was prior, egg or bird, I believe the mind is the creator of the world, and is ever creating — that at last Matter is dead Mind; that Mind makes the senses it sees with; that the genius of man is a continuation of the power that made him and is not done making him."

G: "Can we forgo the deadly past and make bold steps into the Transcendent and Unknown? This abyss yawns forever before the human condition, asking for courageous crossing but chilling the heart with its dark, frightening depths. And yet — here Emerson takes his stand."

Hosta in motion: Plant bed adaptation, 24 May 2003

And so, can we put forth a theory in light of “Adaptation” and emanation, that the ones who jump into the buzzing and blooming world of change and transformation are different from those who hold back for the love of absolute ideas? Is that a valid distinction to make, that some people embrace change and others want to stop it outright or control it out almost of existence, and that this constitutes a major difference in people, a difference Emerson spent his life writing about?

A further point, and perhaps it’s an ironic one at that: Religion is not really as dead set against change as we might think. Indeed, “change” got into religion a long time ago, and that’s why we have so many faiths, creeds, denominations, sects and cults. And that’s why we’re not done making new belief systems. Religion is not immune to change, not in the least. It is stunningly mutable.

So the real enemy of movement, change and transformation is the individual and some absolute idea that he or she uses to fight change in his or her own life, a dogma he or she communicates to others in the hope it will stop change in other lives as well, so that the world can stop changing “for the worse” as if stepping outside the raging cataract of constant adaptation is going to make everything lovely, like we're heading back to some static Golden Age.

Moreover, trying to live by “truth” is quite different than trying to figure out how to thrive in the world: And which is more important? What's more important, change or authority? Adaptation has no authority but change itself.

“Adaptation for ever and ever, amen,” is a tough prayer to live by. Emerson tried. I will too because sometimes you're done with fish and sometimes you only think you are.

Orlean on the set with Cage.

Here’s what Susan Orlean says:

“I didn’t meet Charlie until I spent a day on the ‘Adaptation’ set towards the end of the shoot. I was too embarrassed to say much to him, and he seemed too embarrassed to say much to me. What I would have said was that strangely, marvelously, hilariously, his screenplay has ended up not being a literal adaptation of my book, but a spiritual one, something that has captured (and expanded on) the essential character of what the book, I hope, was about: the process of trying to figure out one’s self, and life, and love, and the wonders of the world; and the ongoing, exasperating battle between doing what’s easy and doing what’s good; and the ongoing, exasperating battle between looking at the world ironically and sentimentally. Oh, and orchids. It is about orchids, about how they adapt to their environment, sometimes resulting in the strangest and most marvelous forms, proving that the answer to everything might indeed be adaptation.” (my emphasis)

Orlean's Web site

IT'S EVERYWHERE | 25 May 2003

I bought “Brain Droppings” by George Carlin yesterday, but instead of getting hit with some zany joke right off the bat, I got the following Emerson emanation / “Adaptation” thing. It’s everywhere!

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

— Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille, from “Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham”

Adaptation and Accommodation

Huston Smith on Orientation



Lyrics to “Wild Horses”

Childhood living is easy to do
The things you wanted I bought them for you
Graceless lady you know who I am
You know I can't let you slide through my hands
Wild horses, couldn't drag me away
Wild wild horses couldn't drag me away

I watched you suffer a dull aching pain
Now you decided to show me the same
No sweeping exits or off stage lines
Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind
Wild horses, couldn't drag me away
Wild wild horses couldn't drag me away

I know I've dreamed you a sin and a lie
I have my freedom but I don't have much time
Faith has been broken tears must be cried
Let's do some living after we die
Wild horses, couldn't drag me away

Wild wild horses we'll ride them someday
Wild horses, couldn't drag me away
Wild wild horses we'll ride them someday