Similarities and Differences in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation and Joe Tilson’s Alcheringa 4 – Earth
Through comparing and contrasting a film with a varied piece of artwork, the central elements of the respective pieces are able to be defined and examined in their extremities. Additionally, it is through such analysis that the way a particular medium is able to portray varied facets is shown. Spike Jonze’s 2002 film, Adaptation features thematic, stylistic and narrative similarities and differences when compared to Joe Tilson’s 1971 collage, Alcheringa 4 – Earth. The comparison of these two pieces of media’s similarities takes place primarily through a discussion of their thematic attributes, whereas their differences are discussed through their use of narrative and stylistic elements.
An initial thematic similarity between these two pieces is their shared theme of adaptations in art. In the case of Alcheringa 4, the theme of adaptation is represented through the collage medium by which the piece is defined as. The concept of a collage as a form of art is the assemblance of different forms, culminating in a finished whole that is distinct from its exclusive parts. Collage as a medium began being utilized by artists during the early 20th century. The art form had its initial roots in Cubism and was commonly done in still-life arrangements. It was not long before the initial notion of collages changed and elements of surrealism and fantasy began to be interpreted into the artform (Szulakowska, 2017). In the case of Alcheringa 4, several images are compiled in creating a reflection of Earth and its distinct attributes, with a surrealistic inclusion of humans. It is through the adaptation of other artist’s initial work and assorted images that this reflection of Earth is able to be created.
Similarly, In Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, the theme of adaptation is blatantly present. The plot of the movie is based around the idea of a screenwriter attempting to adapt a book (an other artist’s initial work) into a screenplay. Throughout the movie we witness a thematic struggle to stay true to the initial form of work that the screenwriter is adapting. This notion of staying true to the initial form of work contrasts the type of adaptation exampled in Alcheringa 4 as it would suggest that a new (original) form of art is not being produced. However, in depicting a screenwriter attempting to stay true in an adaptation in a film, the movie is effectively serving as an original, new form of art which stems from an adaptation. This effect of creating original work simply through the process of adapting or incorporating another’s previous work is mirrored in both Alcheringa 4 and in Adaptation and as such can be viewed as a thematic similarity amongst the two.
In a different vein of themes, it is apparent that the theme of attempting to create integral, unique work in a world of sameness is apparent in both of the works being compared. This theme is present in Tilson’s piece as its inception came at a time of the pop-art movement (of which he was apart of) slightly altering its motives as disillusionment with the consumer society began to become prevalent. The movement had arguably had its origins in consumer society as its features would commonly celebrate or indulge in the facets of pop culture and consumerism. Out of the disillusionment, Tilson chose to use a wider variety of materials in order to draw back to more earthly notions that were common prior to industrialization. In this sense, Tilson’s Alcheringa 4 reflected a grasp at a unique, integral idea or piece of work amongst witnessing the repetition and carbon copy-ness that the consumer society was giving way to.
Similarly, in Jonze’s film the audience is presented with two central characters of twin-brother screenwriters, one successful but through being prolific with cliches, and one not as successful but acclaimed through producing more “integral” work. The interesting notion that the film presents is that the witnessing of his brother’s success does not result in the “integral” brother seeking to replicate said success but instead motivates him to create something distinctively unique from what causes that success. In this sense, Adaptation reflects an attempt by an artist to create something unique and integral in a world in which sameness and cliches are rampant, just as Alcheringa 4 reflects an attempt to differ from the status quo as it has been observed as being repetitive.
Although multiple (particularly thematic) similarities can be drawn between these two works, there are additionally many differences that allow them to contrast each other and define each other as distinct. An initial difference between these two pieces is the respective narratives that the two draw. In Alcheringa 4, which is a still image, a narrative of human’s association with earth can easily be drawn as at the central spot of the bottom-middle there is an image of what appears to be a human with, instead of a head, a plant like structure. Beyond this figure, the vibrance of earth’s natural aspects are displayed through the large, detailed wings of a butterfly which takes up the majority of the top right of the image. The narrative that is arguably being drawn within the image is of human association with nature, describing the pivotal moment in which humans began to differ from the nature cycle of “Earth”. With prominence being put on the “Earth” via the inclusion of the word. The piece is able to tell the story of human association with the natural cycle of Earth, through presenting prior human connection with earth, thus allowing the viewer to evaluate current human association with nature. The effect of these notions is the drawing of the narrative of Earth and Human’s disassociating with each other as a pivotal event.
In contrast, the narrative painted in Adaptation is a self aware story that plays off of the viewers preconceived notions of what a narrative in a film entails. The film initializes with the protagonist screenwriter stating that he seeks to avoid involving cliches such as car chases, death, star-crossed lovers, and guns in his adapted screenplay. These notions are played against the film’s narrative as later on the film itself ends up including all the elements that it’s protagonist swore against. The result is somewhat of a meta-narrative that extends upon itself in order to tell a story that brings into question what the viewer expects from narratives and films in general. This narrative is of course contrasting to the one painted in Alcheringa 4 as the main purpose of its story is not pertaining to a human association or disassociation with nature. This difference between these two pieces is reflective of the different extents of the respective media types. In this instance, film is able to present a narrative within a narrative amongst thousands of frames, allowing for the point to fully be driven home (Hollander, 1989). In the case of Alcheringa 4, a narrative is present however its extremities and implications on human thought are not able to fully be expressed.
In addition to a difference in the respective narratives of Alcheringa 4 – Earth and Adaptation, the two feature stylistic differences in their depiction of nature and the purpose behind this depiction. Alcheringa 4 features the use of stone-like grey tones in the background and foreground in junction with earthly orange, brown and yellow colours. Additionally the collage features numerous detailed designs such as the two sand-like patterns in the bottom left, the butterfly’s wing pattern, and the backgrounds irregular yet distinct line-pattern. It is through the stylistic choices of colour and intricate, yet irregular patterns that an impression of nature or earth is able to be gained. The patterns weave off in irregularity just as the bark or the rings of a tree would, this has the effect of connoting a notion of a non-human attribute as humans would likely create regulated patterns. This notion allows for a distinction to be made between the “natural” world and the “human” world, almost asserting a superiority through the pre-imposing role that nature has.
Nature is stylistically approached in a different manner within Jonze’s Adaptation, as the role that it serves is varied from its role in Alcheringa 4. In the film, dark and cold lighting is commonly used when depicting the protagonist in addition to shots featuring lots of empty space. This is done for the effect of painting the character as isolated and powerless. In juxtaposition to these filming elements, quick cuts are commonly used to then show scenes of nature or orchids. In the nature shots, bright lighting is used to embellish the colours featured in nature and to bring out the vibrance in nature. This has the effect of making the protagonist’s isolation seem even more filled with despair as it is seemingly occurring whilst a vibrant, beautiful world of nature (which he could indulge in) is outside. Additionally, the film features multiple close-ups of orchids and pollination occurring. This has the adverse effect of the spaced out shots used to depict the protagonist and allow for the full, unaffected, inhuman aspect of nature to be taken in juxtaposition to the protagonist. In this sense, the stylistic approach towards nature has a vastly different effect than the approach taken in Alcheringa 4. Although in both cases a distinction between humans and nature is being defined, Adaptation uses this distinction to bring the protagonist even lower whilst Alcheringa 4 uses the distinction to assert a cyclical, all controlling aspect of nature.
Through a comparison of the collage art piece, Alcheringa 4 – Earth by Joe Tilson, and the film, Adaptation by director Spike Jonze, a variety of defining similarities and differences are able to be analyzed. It is through the evaluation of these similarities and differences that one is able to better understand the methods used by the respective artists, and additionally further gain an impression of what motivates the pieces. What can additionally be observed is that there are varied differences that inform similarities and vice versa, this effect allows for the understanding of said similarity or difference to be of greater value. Finally, an analysis such as this allows for the capacities of a medium (art form) to be examined and questioned. Thematically, the two pieces share similarities whilst additionally maintaining narrative and stylistic differences.
Hollander, Anne. Moving Pictures. Knopf, 1989.
Szulakowska, Urszula. Alchemy in Contemporary Art. Routledge, 2017.