While his latest movie Being John Malkovich (1999) is in production, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is hired by Valerie Thomas to adapt Susan Orlean's non-fiction book "The Orchid Thief" for the screen. Thomas bought the movie rights before Orlean wrote the book, when it was only an article in The New Yorker. The book details the story of rare orchid hunter John Laroche, whose passion for orchids and horticulture made Orlean discover passion and beauty for the first time in her life. Charlie wants to be faithful to the book in his adaptation, but despite Laroche himself being an interesting character in his own right, Charlie is having difficulty finding enough material in Laroche to fill a movie, while equally not having enough to say cinematically about the beauty of orchids. At the same time, Charlie is going through other issues in his life. His insecurity as a person doesn't allow him to act upon his feelings for Amelia Kavan, who is interested in him as a man. And Charlie's twin brother, pretentious Donald, has moved into his house with a goal of also becoming a screenwriter. Despite not admiring Donald as a screenwriter, Charlie asks for his advice. Together, they feel that there is some interesting subtext in the book on which Orlean herself can only elaborate, if only Charlie has the nerve to talk to her. If she can't or won't elaborate, they may have to find out the meaning of that subtext on their own.
Frequently cynical screenwriter Charlie Kaufman has just taken on a new assignment. That is, to adapt writer Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief" into a screenplay, all of it based on the life of the eccentric John Laroche, an exotic plant collector based out of Florida. While his easygoing twin brother Donald, is writing scripts with ease, Charlie finds himself on a perpetual struggle that never seems to end.
An account of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's attempt to adapt Susan Orlean's non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, which is the story of John Laroche, a plant dealer who clones rare orchids then sells them to collectors. We see the action of the book as we see Kaufman struggle to adapt it into a movie. This is presumably a somewhat true story, as Charlie Kaufman is the real life screenwriter of Adaptation.
Kaufman is struggling with the arduous task of adapting The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean, which doesn't have an obvious dramatic line (it is essentially a book about orchids). At the same time he faces a mid-life crisis, which is worsened by the presence of his twin brother Donald, a less talented but more joyous person than Charlie, who dreams of making a lot of money with screenplays. The movie also shows Susan Orlean as she does her research for the book, and John Laroche, a colorful orchid hunter whom Susan interviews and, later, falls in love with. These stories eventually intertwine, with unpredictable results.
A lovelorn screenwriter becomes desperate as he tries and fails to adapt 'The Orchid Thief' by Susan Orlean for the screen.
- John Laroche and his wife run a successful Florida nursery, but tragedy strikes and Laroche's wife, mother and uncle are involved in a car accident. Laroche's mother and uncle are killed immediately, but his wife goes into a coma, divorcing Laroche and suing him once she regains consciousness. One month later, Laroche's home and everything he owns is destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. Meanwhile, local Seminoles hire Laroche due to his vast knowledge of flowers and orchid poaching. However, the Seminoles only use the extract of the Ghost Orchid for illicit drug use, and not for tribal ceremonials as Laroche thought.
Laroche is caught at the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and the ensuing trial captures the attention of New Yorker journalist Susan Orlean. Laroche and Susan become great friends, with Susan writing The Orchid Thief. Laroche and Susan then become romantically involved, while Susan is still married, albeit unhappily, in New York. The Orchid Thief is then optioned by Columbia Pictures.
During the filming of Being John Malkovich, the self-loathing and social phobic Charlie Kaufman is hired to write the screenplay. At the same time Charlie is going through melancholic depression and his twin brother Donald moves into his house in Los Angeles, mooching off Charlie. Donald decides to become a screenwriter like Charlie, and visits the seminars of Robert McKee. Charlie wants to adapt the script into a faithful adaptation of The Orchid Thief, hoping to impress Susan. However, he realizes that there is no narrative involved and finds it impossible to turn the book into a film, going through a serious case of writer's block.
Meanwhile, Donald's spec script for a cliché psychological thriller sells for over one million dollars, while Charlie accidentally starts writing his script with self-reference. Already well over his deadline with Columbia Pictures, Charlie visits Susan in New York for advice on the screenplay. In New York Charlie finds that he is not courageous enough to meet Susan, leaving without consulting with her. Charlie visits a McKee seminar in New York, gaining advice from McKee, and bringing Donald to assist with the story structure. Donald even agrees to go on an interview with Susan, posing as Charlie and remains wary of Susan's answers. With Donald convinced that Susan is lying, he and Charlie follow Susan to Florida where she meets Laroche. Donald and Charlie finds Susan and Laroche taking the Ghost Orchid drug and having sex. This is followed by a sequence of events which include a car chase, Donald being shot and then killed in a car crash, Laroche getting bitten by an alligator and Susan being arrested by the police. His writer's block broken, Charlie finally summons up the courage to tell his former girlfriend, Amelia, that he is in love with her. He finishes his script, with Gérard Depardieu in mind to portray him in the film.