'BEING JOHN MALKOVICH' (1999)
Directed by - Spike Jonze
Written by - Charlie Kaufman
WARNING: SPOILERS ahead!
'Being John Malkovich' is for me, a film that represents a level of self-analysis for the writer and director as well as for the audience. While the plot itself is intriguing enough to give this film a viewing, once you start watching you find yourself being sucked into a pseudo-reality where the characters and situations are quite unreal and yet relatable and believable in a rather absurd way.
While the narrative does takes a while to get going, it serves its characters well by establishing each ones interpersonal relationships. Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a man who discovers the portal into the head of actor John Malkovich, a portal which allows the person entering the portal to view the world through Malkovich's eyes and influence his thoughts to a certain degree. This is apparent from the start when Schwartz's wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) enters the portal and persuades him to date Maxine (Catherine Keener).
The experience of being inside Malkovich's head is quite surreal to begin with and becomes exponentially so when Malkovich himself enters the portal. The paradoxical nature of Malkovich entering his own mind is depicted with a level of chaotic poetry as it is shot and edited to depict a level of utter confusion with the edits being in perfect tandem with the camera movements.
The question that is posited through this experience - what would it be like to enter one's own mind and somehow view your own world as a fly on the wall, a disembodied spirit? - is both bizarre and profoundly invigorating. Once through the portal, Malkovich finds himself in a world where everything and everyone is 'Malkovich' and all they speak is the word 'Malkovich.' Perhaps this is a statement on the character's own ego?
The film has a good balance of theme and plot. The concept of the world as a stage and everyone being puppets controlled by an all powerful puppet master is amplified through this narrative where an individual is literally controlled by someone else. His mind and body is essentially taken over as Craig Schwartz becomes John Malkovich so to speak. As Schwartz is already established as a brilliant puppeteer, the scene where he finally gains full control over Malkovich's mind and body and performs his act for Maxine is poetic in the way that it parallels the opening scene where he is performing the same routine with his puppet.
John Cusack gives us a masterclass in character acting with a transformation from a strong and sympathetic man to a loathsome, pitiful shadow of his former self. Cameron Diaz turns out a quirky and likable performance and Catherine Keener is brilliant as the sharp witted and sharp tongued Maxine. Orson Bean's mannerisms and eccentricities as Dr. Lester are endearing. However, the stand out performance was that of John Malkovich. Not only does he play an alternate version of himself, he also effectively portrays himself as he is controlled by Schwartz.
This film not only a testament to Spike Jonze's capabilities as an actor's director but also to Charlie Kaufman's genius as a story teller. 'Being John Malkovich' is undeniably a film that both challenges the mind and opens us up to self analysis.
VishRates - 4 / 5