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  • Gareth Crook

Being John Malkovich (1999)

I loved this when it came out. I used to quote lines from it all the time, which I’m sure was quite annoying. It’s wonderfully offbeat, a bit nuts, an absurd fantasy. Directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, that’s not that unusual. You’ve got to embrace its quirks. Craig (John Cusack) is a lonely, socially inept puppeteer. He’s married to Lotte (Cameron Diaz) who suggests he gets out of the house. The puppeteering isn’t going so well you see, he’s let’s say, unconventional with his themes. Getting out of the house isn’t a bad idea, seeing as they share it with a wide range of pets include dogs, parrots, an iguana, a chimp. Craig finds a job filing at Lester Corp, in the Mertin Flemmer Building. Lester Corp is situated on the 7 and a half floor with “low overheads, we pass the savings on to you”. To get there you have to emergency stop the lift between floors and jimmy the doors with a crowbar in the corner. As soon as Craig steps off the lift, walking down the corridor with everyone hunched over in the 4ft office space I’m hooked all over again. There’s the receptionist that mishears everything. The 105 year old boss who thinks he’s got a speech impediment and likes to share his sexual fantasies and of course the orientation film! A brilliant sequence that introduces us to the history of the 7 and a half floor. It’s here that Craig first meets Maxine (Catherine Keener) who Craig takes an instant shine to despite her palpable disinterest in him. Craig’s just too awkward, only through his puppets is he able to find the confidence he craves. Getting into their heads, finding a sense of control. Then one fateful day, a file falls behind a cabinet at work. He moves the cabinet away from the wall to get it and discovers a tiny door with a cut glass handle. Opening it, he finds a tunnel and an ominous draft. As he crawls in he gets pulled through a portal into the head of John Malkovich. Brilliant! He’s a passenger, seeing the world through Malkovich’s eyes, before getting spat out covered in gunk at the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. This of course makes Craig interesting to Maxine, who spots a business opportunity. Selling tickets to Malkovich, but for Craig it poses many existential questions. Of course, we’re wondering ‘what the hell is going on?’, but like I say, go with it. Lotte and Craig are invited to dinner at Dr Lester’s (Orson Bean) and Lotte discovers another door with a cut glass handle. This one isn’t tiny, but does reveal a room filled with framed photos of Malkovich throughout his life. There must be a link, but back to that later. Lotte becomes obsessed after trying the portal, with Malkovich, with the power. Maxine too, but then that’s less surprising from Maxine. She doesn’t go into Malkovich, her interests are in making easy money. Maxine’s also interested in Lotte, much to Craig’s annoyance, but only when she’s in Malkovich, who she’s now dating, slightly to Lotte’s annoyance. A bizarre love triangle or possibly quadrangle that cracks Craig. Until he figures out how to control Malkovich, another puppet in his collection. This obviously freaks Malkovich, who confides in Charlie Sheen, because, well because this is the 90s. He follows Maxine to the Mertin Flemmer building behind a queue of eager punters, barges his way in and heads down the portal. Cue a truly glorious 2 minute sequence where everything is ‘MALKOVICH’. He’s not happy about it obviously and the whole enterprise is in jeopardy, but then it’s in danger of imploding anyway. Craig controls Malkovich, Maxine controls Craig. Lotte spurned tells Dr Lester who’s not Dr Lester and the whole thing falls into place. Honestly it makes perfect sense when you’re watching it. Craig gets his way. For a time. He’s now Malkovich. He’s destined for disappointment though. Destined to be absorbed. There’s a reason Dr Lester has all those photos of Malkovich. A disturbing sequence through Malkovich’s subconscious, heralds the end of this masterpiece, but it’s a beautiful bonkers and twisty ride. It’s charming, funny, inventive, utterly unique and I love it!



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