Nothing marked creativity liked the cinemas in 1999. Distinguished by the creation of The Matrix, Fight Club, and Being John Malkovich, 1999 foreshadowed towards the inventiveness that the new millennium would bring about. As I stated some words before, Being John Malkovich marks a cornerstone in the development of new cinema that challenged the viewer whilst remaining utterly original.
Marking both the arrival of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze to the cinema, Being John Malkovich is their first collaboration, one that foreshadowed towards a future of pure brilliance being translated onto the big-screen. Whether that be the theme of identity that resonates in every Kaufman script or the zany nature of any Jonze flick, Being John Malkovich has it all. Meta, tragic, quirky, and completely insane, Being John Malkovich deals with low-time puppeteer Craig Schwartz who desires to bring about a renaissance in the world of puppeteering only to be restricted by the crushing reality that surrounds him, puppeteering is frowned upon unless you’re the best in the world. Literally beaten by the harsh realities of the street puppeteering scene, Craig is forced to take a job on the 7 1/2 floor of LesterCorp where he discovers a miniature door that allows you to be John Malkovich for fifteen minutes. Getting to control a celebrity’s body for fifteen minutes, it appears Craig has found the best treasure a puppeteer could ever wish to have, the ability to maneuver a sentient being.
As in any Kaufman film, hijinks ensue, crazy characters are introduced, the film takes a complete 180° towards the end as Kaufman stretches his talents to try and define the metaphysical, creating an entire cult-like squadron that surrounds this idea of embodying a body. The concept of a woman in a man’s body is brought up, ideas about broken identity are tossed around and whereas in Anomalisa Kaufman acknowledges an existential crisis with a much more direct approach where he just lets loose and goes insane with the concepts of both puppeteering and identity, Being John Malkovich marks his most abstract investigation into the idea of what it really means to be you.
Performance-wise, this film marks some of the most crazy embodiments of wacky characters portrayed on film during the 90’s. From Cameron Diaz’s obsessive over Malkovich, Malkovich himself being tooled by various other human beings, Catherine Keener’s most disturbing interpretation malicious, and at the center of it all the brilliant performance by John Cusack as someone’s who is confused and tortured about the events that surround him.
Being John Malkovich is truly a film to wonder, a perfect film to revisit, and a film that still holds up despite its ridiculous portrayal of an alternate seven-years later version of Charlie Sheen. As I referenced before, its also quite interesting for all the elements seen in it that would later figure in as elemental components of Kaufman’s later works, my favorite example of this being the subconscious-trotting scene that would later be constructed upon in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In both its portrayal of the tragic corruption of identity and the fervent voice of imagination it brings to the screen, Being John Malkovich succeeds in totality, expanding upon what can be done with a camera and a fantastic script, leading me to place it at a 92 out of 100.