BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)
PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Personal identity
CHARACTERS: Craig (John Cusack, puppeteer), John Malkovich (John Malkovich), Lottie (Cameron Diaz, Craig’s wife), Maxine (Craig’s romantic interest), Dr. Lester (business man)
OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR SPIKE JONZE: Jackass: the Movie (2002), Adaptation (2002)
SYNOPSIS: Unhappy with his marriage and unsuccessful as a career puppeteer, Craig takes a job filing documents in a Manhattan office. He meets and falls in love with office worker Maxine, who cares nothing for him. One day Craig finds a tunnel in a wall behind a filing cabinet. He climbs through it, and at the end he can see through the eyes of actor John Malkovich. Craig and Maxine embark on a business venture, charging people to crawl through the Malkovich portal. To woo Maxine, Craig stays within Malkovich, and redirects Malkovich’s career from acting to puppetry. But, Maxine loses interest in Craig, and has a lesbian relationship with Craig’s wife, Lottie. Craig is trapped forever in another portal. The film received Academy Awards nominations for best director, best original screenplay, and best actress (Catherine Keener).
1. At the outset of the movie, Craig states to his wife’s pet chimp “consciousnesses is a terrible curse: I think, I feel, I suffer.” Do you agree?
2. Craig states that he likes puppetry because it gives him an opportunity to get inside someone else’s skin, to think differently, move differently and feel differently. This is evidently the same pleasure that people get when experiencing John Malkovich’s life. It is also behind John Malkovich’s enjoyment of being an actor, and Lottie’s empathy with animals. In each of these cases, though, the vehicle is just as miserable as the spectator (think of how Craig’s puppet characters were all tormented, and the psychological ailments that Lottie’s animals had). How, then, could such an experience be a source of comfort?
3. One of Craig’s puppet skits shows a man and woman separated by a wall. In fact, every major character in the movie is isolated from others in some major respect. Does the movie offer any solution to the problem of human isolation?
4. Craig states that the portal is a metaphysical can of worms and raises philosophical perplexing questions such as the nature of self, the existence of a soul, and whether I am me. Does the movie offer a solution to any of these questions?
5. Suppose that you didn’t see the scene in which John Malkovich goes through his own portal. If you were then asked to speculate about what would happen in such an event, what would you say?
6. What is the symbolism behind the physical structure of floor 7 1/2?