Sunday, February 10, 2008

Being John Malkovich

"Being John Malkovich" is one of the strangest movies that I have ever seen. It is almost impossible to fully explain the plot, structure, and meaning of this movie. I had seen the movie before this viewing; in fact, I watched the movie no more than eight months ago but that does not change the fact that this movie is just as bizarre as my first viewing. Two scenes in particular are extremely odd and hysterical in their own right, the scene where Malkovich enters his own mind and the scene with Elijah in the jungle. I will not even try to explain the two scenes but they are so off the wall that they are absolutely brilliant and uproarious. These two scenes are perfect microcosms for the rest of the movie. They depict how strange yet how funny and brilliant this movie is.

In our Hall book, Literary and Cultural Theory, Hall states that “it is clear that no one is fully self-aware and in control of all of the fears, desires, and conflicting emotions that can propel actions” (pg. 105). This quote speaks volumes about some of the actions in the movie. I will try not to summarize the plot because it would be impossible for me to adequately explain Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s movie. One of the main conflicting issues in the movie is whether or not it is right for Maxine and Craig to sell ‘trips’ into John Malkovich’s mind. Is this ethical? Even in the case where the tourist does not touch the surroundings but rather just admires them, is this a deplorable act? I tend to believe that this is a very harmful act but as Craig rationalizes it, he did discover the portal. But does that mean he is the owner of the portal or does it belong to Malkovich? Another question this movie raises is: would you like to be someone for 15 minutes? Personally, I do not know. I would not want to be John Malkovich for 15 minutes but I would like to be other people for 15 minute intervals. That is what Craig and Maxine are selling, a way to escape the plainness of everyday life. How does this movie relate to Hall’s section on Psychoanalytic Analysis? The answer is in Craig’s ability to control Malkovich and his other puppets actions and his inability to control his own life and the real people around him.

No one in the movie will doubt that Craig is a fantastic puppeteer, which is why he thrives, more so than anyone else, inside of Malkovich. He is able to propel Malkovich into iconic and legendary status within a span of a few months. As a side note, one of the funniest running jokes in the movie is that everyone knows who John Malkovich is but no one knows what movies he was in. Craig is able to manipulate Malkovich like his puppets because in a sense the portal allows him to become a puppet. Craig has fantastic relationships with things around him that he can control; the downside is that he can only control inanimate objects. His inability to control humans or his emotions eventually leads to his downfall. Craig is terribly poor at connecting with other humans. He is driven by his emotions, which are often very erratic. One almost wonders how he and Lottie remained married for so long. Like every other character in the movie, Craig cannot completely articulate why he loves being Malkovich so much. Everyone in the movie has almost the same response ‘it was fun and it…just felt right.’

Hall states “human activity is not reducible to conscious intent” (pg. 105), which is evident throughout this movie. Hall is stating that not every action that humans make is occurs because of a conscious or coherent thought. Often times actions or activities occur because of outside forces and factors, in the case for John Malkovich, many of his actions and thoughts were dictated by Craig. The thoughts and actions were not actually his but rather that of another person. This raises one more interesting question, are the premises and actions of this movie possible?


Bass Monkey said...

I find it interesting how few people see this movie as a horror film. Underneath all of the psychological underpinnings is essentially a tale of "Body Snatchers" who are awaiting the day they can inhabit Malkovich's body, forcing his consciousness into oblivion so that they can live forever through him. Their next victem will be the daughter of Maxine and Lotte once she reaches the age of 44. On second viewing the sweet old people reminded me of the nice old people in Rosemany's Baby. The poor little girls only hope is that someone kills Malkovich before she reaches the age where he will enter her body through the portal along with his "possessors".

Randy said...

I just saw the movie last night and the scene with Elijah in the jungle was indeed hilarious. Lotte had mentioned to Maxine, when Maxine had visited for dinner, that she was performing pschoanalysis on Elijah (we assume he has issues). The jungle scene shows Elijah's traumatic moment where he was not able to save his family. By untieing Lotte's ropes he was able to confrot his trauma and was thus cured. Meaning if all else fails in this movie at least there's a happy Chimp.

Angie said...

I saw the movie for the first time last night as well and was intreged by the parallels that were in manipulation throughout the movie. First Craig is puppeteering his easily manipulated dolls showing that a realistic being can easily manipulate a lifeless being. Next Craig walks to his new job and as he walks he is in a way gliding with his long thin limbs similar to that of a puppet himself. I think this is significant because though he is in his own body he seems to be only moving it to allow he did with his puppets. Next there is the scene with Elijah and Lotte, Lotte obviously puts much effort into her animals as if they were her unwanted children; keeping them and caring for them. The strings are obviously cut between Lotte and Craig at this time as noted in their lack of eye contact or interest in touching eachother. Craigs interest to make money before having a baby seems justified yet his ablity to control his actions to have his wife inavertly causes deteration between them. The next maniputive parallel was in the disconnected conversations with Maxine and The "dr". Even though Craig's efforts to communicate failed so many times he continued to try in the same manner and method and so he was easily manipulated by those he spoke with because of his lack of social appearence. Yet Maxine still fell for him and met him for drinks, at this point she realizes her manipulative power over his sexually deprived body. Then the portal is found and Craig becomes a silent parasite in Malkovich's body. When Maxine is enlightened about the portal she was able to Manipulate her way into accessing his private number, seducing. Him into spending more time with her, and partnering Craig to sell time in the portal. When first meeting Lotte and Craig for seems at this time that Maxine holds the most power to manipulate. She leaves and has three people answering to her. Next Craig shows manipulation over Lotte and Lotte's lack of sexual enjoyment in her own body draws her interests in being Malkovich. Maxine has both Craig and Malkovich at the same time yet thinking she has the show for Lotte. The parallel is that She is acting for a viewer through the body of an actor. The manipulative behavior continues as Craig discovers how to controll his "expensive suit". The body of an actor becomes easily manipulated by the mind of a puppeteer. Meanwhile the actions of the puppeteer are manipulated by the seductress who in turn is the body holding the next poral. He unborn child lays dependent inside her as she struggles to run away from the unbaren women Lotte who in a rage chases Maxine through Malkovich'subconscious. It seems the strings of manipulation become pretty inter woven. I am still tring to understand the immortals passing through into one person.

Anonymous said...

@ Bass Monkey - I've just seen is and yes - it ishorrific! Nobody showed any compassion for Malkovich. The poor bloke being a human puppet to those who could control him; and just 15 minutes of escapism for those who couldn't.
Ethics weren't even mentioned here, and it's left me feeling disturbed enough to skim though through the web looking for some relief. Thanks for reviewing it with an empathetic mind.