Attend: Program Notes
Being John Malkovich | Spike Jones | US | 1999 | BD | 113 minutes
Cinesthesia, Madison Public Library Central Branch, Thursday, June 1, 6:30pm»
In his Cinesthesia program notes, Jason Fuhrman argues that Being John Malkovich seduces us into an alternative reality while retaining its own singular logic.
“I have been to the dark side and back. I have seen a world that no man should see.” – John Malkovich
Prior to the Criterion Collection reissue of Being John Malkovich, pop-culture critic Perkus Tooth met with director Spike Jonze to discuss the film. When Tooth e-mailed his colleague Sophocles Jones to inform her of the forthcoming conversation, she replied she’d be forever haunted by the scene “when Cameron Diaz is fucking that life-size puppet underwater.” Although no such scene occurs in the film—Jones realized that she must have dreamed it—this particular aftereffect stands as a testament to the subtle, enduring influence and limitless potential of Being John Malkovich. Indeed, such a scene would not be out of place in this dazzling, playfully perverse and perpetually imaginative movie.
At once a surreal, metacinematic odyssey and a profound meditation on consciousness, identity, fame, love, gender and reality, Being John Malkovich offers a truly different perspective of filmmaking and life.
John Cusack stars as Craig Schwartz, an amazingly skilled street puppeteer who performs letter-perfect impersonations of passers-by with his marionette (a delicately crafted miniature version of himself). Despite his special talents, he struggles to make ends meet and his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz), a workaholic pet-store employee, persuades him to look for more lucrative work. The nimble-fingered Craig lands a job as a filing clerk at LesterCorp, a peculiar company located on the seventh and a half floor of a nondescript office building in downtown Manhattan, run by the elderly, sex-obsessed eccentric Mr. Lester (Orson Bean). There, Craig encounters an attractive, poised and world-weary office worker named Maxine (Catherine Keener), whom he becomes infatuated with. But she swiftly rejects his clumsy attempts to seduce her and Craig withdraws into his work.
One day, while routinely filing some papers away, Craig stumbles upon a hidden passageway that inexplicably leads straight into the brain of character actor John Malkovich (John Malkovich). His discovery quite literally changes the way Craig sees the world, but also has ramifications that extend far beyond his own existence. Thus begins a trip down the rabbit hole that is continually astounding, exhilarating and mind-bending for Craig and viewers alike.
Bizarre yet accessible, Being John Malkovich yields fresh surprises at every turn as it blurs the boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, comedy and the avant-garde. Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman thoroughly ground the characters within a familiar, quotidian environment of office drudgery, daily commutes, and cramped apartment life, thus supplying the perfect foundation for the film’s more brazenly outlandish components.
The film proves to be so intricately realized from such a weirdly specific concept that it successfully seduces us into an alternative reality, while retaining its own singular logic. With its one-of-a-kind premise, absurdist plot elements, uncanny verisimilitude, and complex metaphysical ideas, Being John Malkovich opens a portal into a cinematic world of infinite possibilities.
Cast: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place, Charlie Sheen.