Should Screenwriters Just Sell Out: An Analytical Comparison of Charlie Kaufmann’s Adaptation and Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths.

Greetings loved ones! Liu is the name, and views are my game.

 

About three weeks back, a good friend and fellow writer asked me to do an analysis of Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths. As both a huge admirer of Mr McDonagh’s work, and someone quite flattered at the idea of receiving fan requests, I agreed to the task. In an interesting twist of fate, I got Seven Psychopaths in the mail at exactly the same time as Adaptation, a film I’d been hoping to watch for a while. More interesting still was the fact that, as soon as I got the chance to sit down and see these pictures, I discovered that they shared a startling number of similarities. Both movies focus on screenwriters struggling to create profound pieces of work that don’t include sex, violence or any of the other Hollywood tropes. Both protagonists end up embarking on wacky adventures which give them the inspiration they were looking for. And finally, both stories end with the main characters writing scripts filled with nudity, guns, and just about all the other stuff they initially said they didn’t want to write about. Do I smell a hypocrite?

Anyway, when I saw how similar these films were in terms of both plot and theme, I decided to be bold and do something I’d never done before–squeeze two analyses into one. Under different circumstances I would never have even considered taking on such a task–I’ve been known to take weeks to write a single analysis, let alone two in one–but given the time and climate of the request, I simply couldn’t refuse. See, I’m about to go off to college to study creative writing, and I thought it beneficial to both my craft and confidence to analyze films, which, in addition to being critically acclaimed, dealt with the process of writing and with the dilemma of originality. So in the end, though I continually told myself that it wasn’t worth the effort, I decided to grit my teeth and get the analysis done. I won’t pretend that it was easy–I had to stop, backtrack and start from scratch several times–but, overall, I’m quite glad I did it. Analyzing these films taught me a great deal about the discipline it takes to be a writer, and I feel considerably more confident in my work for doing this.

But, concerning the pictures themselves; when I first saw them, I kind of hated them. Their protagonists constantly whined about how much they despised the “kiss kiss, bang bang” doctrine of Hollywood, and yet, by the time the opening credits rolled, they’d embraced it themselves. If there’s anything I truly dislike in this world, it’s hypocrites. They just make me want to scream. But you know what? Being a little bit of a hypocrite is forgivable, even endearing. It shows that you’re imperfect, that you’re human. What isn’t forgivable is being a giant hypocrite who does the things he or she professes to hate to an excessive degree, in other words, to be like the makers of these films. In an interview at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Martin McDonagh explained how Seven Psychopaths was his own small rebellion against movie violence, and yet this “rebellion” is one of the most violent films ever made. Within it, several people are burned alive, even more have their brains blown out, and one dude has his head sawed off, very, very slowly. Similarly, Adaptation’s protagonist, a fictionalized version of the film’s screenwriter, Charlie Kaufmann, says he doesn’t want to make a movie with sex in it, and yet every other scene seems to have some dude masturbating or some woman pulling her top off. But what was most troubling to me about these movies the first time I saw them was their underlying message–the message that creativity and originality are overrated, and that in order to succeed, one must write the mindless drivel that the masses have seen a million times before. This flat out depressed me because, If that’s true, why should I go through all the trouble of studying to be a filmmaker? I mean, it’s all been done before, so why should I bother with attempting to create something new?

As you can see, my feelings toward these pictures weren’t exactly warm upon my initial viewing. And yet, as time wore on, I developed a more nuanced understanding, and, by extension, appreciation for them. Yes, the movies possessed many of the characteristics of other films that their creators claimed to hate, but that’s the whole point of satire–to mimic one thing to an excessive degree in order to show how stupid it is. Similarly, while the characters did end up selling out, so to speak, they did so in a manner that actually left the door open for creativity. In Adaptation, Charlie decides to take advice on screenwriting from a man named Robert McKee, who is completely for originality and staying true to one’s beliefs, but all while following certain principles of storytelling. Seven Psychopaths likewise possesses a moment where the protagonist has an epiphany about balancing rebellious ideals with corporate interest. The main character, Marty, writes a story about a former Viet Cong soldier who, in order to get back at the Americans who murdered his family, sends a prostitute with a bomb strapped to her body into a veterans convention. Marty doesn’t like how violent this vignette is, and so abandons it. He is eventually convinced to finish it, however, when a friend gives him an idea that the whole veterans convention scene is actually the dying thoughts of a Buddhist monk about to burn himself in order to protest the Vietnam war. The fantasy represents the monk’s anger, his desire to stop these horrible and destructive people in a manner befitting their barbarity. In the end, however, he is able to let go of these violent feelings, and make a statement that is both powerful and clear, and more importantly, doesn’t hurt anyone else. To me, this whole monk scenario is a very good metaphor for rebellious screenwriters. We, like the monk, want to stop a certain group whom we dislike, and to do it in a manner that is resonant and memorable. And yet, if we attack these people, be it with words or weapons, we just end up hurting ourselves. Sure we can protest–we can even strive to be original in that protest–but the simple fact is, everything has been done at least once before, so there’s no point in hating stuff that has been around for a while and that we already know works.

So, if I’ve learned anything from analyzing these two pictures, its that, nothing in this world is original, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As writers, we must simply do our best to work within the limits of human imagination and public interest. If we’re able to do that, we will be far more successful in both our careers, and our own personal crusades. And in the end, that’s about all we can really hope to do in life.

If you disagree, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts. Thank you for reading my first ever double analysis, and have a good night.

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