Reviewed by: Jason Murphy
“Ever wanted to be someone else?”
“Being John Malkovich” is probably the most relentlessly bizarre movie to be released this year. This is definitely not a bad thing. The first feature for both director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman, it’s an amazing debut.
Craig Schwartz is an out-of-work puppeteer. Tremendously successful as a starving artist, but little else, he gets a job as a file clerk for a corporation (that just happens to have its headquarters in an office only 4½ feet tall). There, in his office, he finds a portal that sucks him into the head of actor John Malkovich for 15 minutes before spitting him out again on the side of the New Jersey turnpike.
Pretty soon, he and his coworker Maxine (whom he lusts after), are selling tickets to John Malkovich for $200 a pop. Pretty much everyone undergoes a major identity crisis, including poor Malkovich, who ends up having his head perpetually messed with.
One of the great things about “BJM” is that it blends a huge amount of hilariously offbeat humor with an equal, though much more subtle, amount of haunting tragedy. The film reeks of broken dreams, childhood traumas, loneliness and unfulfilled longing. At the end of the movie, I was unsure whether to laugh or cry. Blending of comedy and drama done in so skilled a manner is rarely found in films. As an example, this is the first film I have seen that easily transitions from discussions about the nature of the human soul to a chimpanzee having a flashback of its parents' capture by hunters.
The acting is terrific, and the casting is phenomenal. Cusack and Diaz are nearly unrecognizable, and Malkovich deserves an award for not only allowing the film to be made, but diving head-on into the self-parody his role required. Jonze’s directing and Kaufman’s writing is appropriately surreal, playing the whole setup surprisingly straight. Also of note is the excellent music, both haunting and beautiful.
There’s little violence in the movie, but there is a lot of profanity. The thing that I think most people will take issue with is the sexuality here. Not that there’s much nudity, but there are several sexual situations in the film, which become increasingly weird when identity comes into play. For example, Craig’s wife falls in love with Maxine, but only when she is John Malkovich. I’m kind of confused myself what to make of it. Not really homosexuality in the conventional sense, though there are definite undercurrents in that direction, especially at the end. Definitely bizarre though. Either way, it’s wrong from a biblical standpoint.
What is interesting is the exploration of identity here. What makes me me? If I were in John Malkovich, would I still be me? So many people are unhappy with their lives, and given the chance, would love to be someone else, if only to view life from another perspective. (The grass is always greener…) In a way, “Being John Malkovich” is also a metaphor for cinema as a whole, too: for a limited amount of time, people will pay money to experience things they would never be able to in real life (the success of “Star Wars”, for example, is partially due to this phenomenon, in my opinion). These intricacies and explorations in the film (though they don’t really provide hard answers, just serving as a springboard for the viewers own thoughts) are what makes it truly great.
Both funny and heartbreaking, entertaining and thought-provoking, “Being John Malkovich” is a great movie. To those of you who love cinema, and are not deterred by the film’s objectionable content, I would highly recommend you check this one out.