Dee’s Bookcase: Being John Malkovich

Posted: December 19, 2012 by Dee in Bookcase, Dee, General Media, Movies
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Being John Malkovich was written by Charlie Kaufman, who is now something of an indie film legend. It was his first movie and without a doubt he made a huge impression on everyone. He went on to write several fantastic films, one of which is on my top ten list of best movies ever. He came out of no where with this original idea that gave everyone a headache, but somehow it had just enough of these random elements that it worked. It worked so well. Go figure. It stars John Cusack as Craig, a downtrodden puppeteer with no career prospects who gets a clerk job to get by. His wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) is obsessed with animals and their relationship is not very good. He meets the beautiful and vivacious Maxine (Catherine Keener) at his work and becomes obsessed with her, but she mostly finds him amusing at best. Eventually he discovers behind a filing cabinet a strange wooden door. When he climbs inside, he’s transported into the mind of the actor John Malkovich. He spends only a short time experiencing everything through Malkovich before the portal drops him into a ditch near the New Jersey Turnpike. He tells Maxine all about it, and after experiencing it herself, she thinks they can find a way to use this to their advantage. They sell $200 dollar ‘trips’ to Malkovich’s head from miserable people looking to be someone else for a short time.

Maxine decides to meet Malkovich in person and seduces him. Craig has to tell Lotte about it, and she finds a lot of empowerment and fascination in the experience. She and Maxine form a connection and start a sexual relationship, with Maxine sleeping with Malkovich but Lotte being in his mind at the time. Craig is furious and locks his wife up, so he can have sex with Maxine instead, but he finds out that his puppeteer strength translates to this too. He ends up taking control of Malkovich permanently, and Maxine agrees to marry him. Craig turns Malkovich into an amazing sensation as a puppeteer master, although he doesn’t find happiness in his depressed and pregnant wife. Lotte bonds with a group of older people who have been using the portal to keep themselves alive longer, and they want to get Malkovich back from Craig. Yes. This is the weirdest movie you’ll see in a long time, but it does actually make more sense than it sounds like. Ish.

First Impression

I saw this the first weekend it came out in Maine, although it’d been out already in limited release. My parents thought it looked offbeat and weird (which it is) and thought ‘why the heck not.’ Two of my friends came with us and they didn’t like each other very much, so they were bickering until the movie started and we all just got totally sucked into it. I remember being glued to the screen, fascinated, and then it was over. I was fifteen at the time, and I might not have understood all of the many high concepts in this movie, but I knew it was amazing and I was hooked.

Current Impression

I still love this movie. I think with multiple viewings and time I just find it more interesting. It’s so bizarre. It was really different. Kaufman is a master of ‘different but interesting.’ I really can’t put my finger on all the reasons this movie works for me. The acting is fantastic. The writing is somewhere between completely realistic and utterly insane. It stays with me now. I remember it years later with great accuracy, and when I watch it, it’s still amusing to me. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, but only if you find weirdness interesting. Because it’s weirder than most things out there, but I don’t know, it works with basic plot too. It’s really about love and obsession and … body portals. So. Thumbs up.

Favorite Character

This is hard. I want to give an honorable mention to John Malkovich because omg he’s amazing and the fact he was willing to do this makes me totally affectionate toward him for life. But I’m going to go with Lotte/Cameron Diaz. It’s because I had no idea it was her until halfway through the movie. I did not recognize Diaz in the least, and I’d seen plenty of her movies at that point. It still baffles me, because she was just sucked into this character and she portrayed her so well that I couldn’t see the actress anymore. Lotte takes such an interesting twist in the movie, from being the supportive caretaker to desperately in love to murderously depressed and then settled and complete. I don’t know. Something about that character really spoke to me and I found myself on her side most of the time (except for chasing a pregnant woman, yo, that’s too much).

Favorite Quote

Waiter: “Malkovich?”
John: “MALKOVICH!”
Waiter: “Malkovich.” – Still something I laugh about hysterically to this day.

Favorite Scene

Okay despite the fact I told Lotte not to chase a pregnant woman, that scene was fantastically shot. As she chases Maxine through Malkovich’s mind, it’s warped and keeps your attention through the whole thing. It does put me in mind of the movies Kaufman does later, which we’ll get to eventually, and actually reminds me of Inception too. Or Inception reminds me of this. Which we’ll also get to later. But yes I love how that entire scene is shot and then their reunion afterward. Is there any other movie where one woman can say to another she’s pregnant with her baby while she was having sex with her as Malkovich. This movie, lol.

What Doesn’t Work

I’m trying to think. Obviously the weirdness of this movie would make it very difficult to work on a mainstream level. Sometimes I think it goes overboard just because it can, but I do appreciate that it’s a very smart movie, and that it’s not in an annoying pretentious way. I guess there are people who could find it pretentious and trying too hard and what is wrong with them because this movie is awesome. I’m going to go with that it doesn’t appeal to a wide audience; I’m not surprised at all that some people wouldn’t find it appealing. The material is original but it’s also difficult to connect to. You can’t really relate to the characters on a personal level, and the things that happen to them are way outside of our way of thinking. You don’t necessarily like any one of these characters. So those could be reasons not to like it.

Why I Own This

Like you couldn’t guess from the rest of the review. The thing is, I don’t watch it very often. Sometimes I’ll get into a mindfuck mood and I might pull it out, but I do like introducing new people to the movie. They usually come back pensive and confused, but glad they watched it. I’m kind of surprised Keener got nominated for best supporting actress over Diaz. I seriously think Diaz and Cusack were better actors. I’m just rambling now. Love this movie. It’s out there and you’ll probably go ‘wtfff’ afterward, but it’s not something you’ll ever forget.

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