Being John Malkovich

Pull the string!

This is a wonderfully weird fantasy from the mind of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and Beastie Boys video director Spike Jonze.

John Cusack (Grosse Pointe Blank) stars as Craig Schwartz, a nebish puppeteer who takes a filing job to help support his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz in ‘frumpy’ drag) and her always-ailing menagerie. There, he meets and falls for Maxine (Catherine Keener), an attractive woman who works at an undetermined position in another office.  Schwartz fails to make an impression on Maxine, until one day he accidentally comes upon a hidden door behind a filing cabinet. The door leads to a vortex or conduit that transports him inside the mind of actor John Malkovich (as himself, teaming with Cusack for the first time since Con Air) for approximately 15 minutes.

Though Maxine apparently feels no compulsion to enter the door herself, others (especially Lotte) can’t get enough of the experience, and Maxine coerces Craig into exploiting his discovery. Weird romantic and metaphysical complications ensue.

Yes, it’s the same old Hollywood formula plot. Well, no – outside of Brainstorm and Strange Days, I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like it.

The implications of this device are astounding. What does it say about the nature of the soul? What is the nature of fame? Why John Malkovich? Did he have to audition for the part? What happens when Malkovich goes through the door himself?

All these kinds of concepts are addressed, but the tone stays consistently deadpan throughout, taking full advantage of the comic implications. Though Kaufman has dreamed up a completely bizarre concept for his story, he’s also populated it with many others: much of the action takes place on a floor of an office building apparently built for midgets, but populated by none. A chimpanzee who must overcome a childhood trauma to save the day. A hearing impaired woman who believes everyone else has a speech impediment. And then there’s the matter of Malkovich’s best friend.

Being John Malkovich is one of the strangest trips to be put on film in many years. See it. Enjoy it. Be it.

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