Friday, 1 April 2016

Being John Malkovich: The Puppetry of Being

And so here we are with the final Kaufman Musing. Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman's debut film and first success. It's been a long 6 weeks but we got right to the end with the beginning. And after the misstep that was Human Nature last week, it will be nice to close off these Musings with a great Kaufman script.

And Being John Malkovich is a great Kaufman script. I was worried that it wouldn't hold up on the re-watch but I was surprised to find that it's still as fresh and inventive as on first viewing. I was also surprised to realise how much I forgot about the movie.

The opening scene is a puppet dance. I forgot there were even puppets in this movie.

I think the majority of this review is just gonna be me realising how little I remember the movie. Which is odd because I liked this movie. When I thought in my head about Being John Malkovich, if I was ever thinking about Being John Malkovich for some reason, I'd think things like, "That's a good movie" and "I enjoyed that".

However I don't think I could tell you what happens in the story aside from there's a portal into John Malkovich's head. I mean, I forgot there were puppets and puppets are all over the place in this film. The main protagonist played by John Cusack is a puppeteer. He puppets for a job.

The puppets are a metaphor because John Malkovich's body becomes a puppet subject to the whims of whomever is inside his head. I'm not sure if that was obvious since the film was very subtle with its abundant use of puppets.

Subtle.

True to form, Kaufman's puppeteer protagonist is rather unlikable. He's scruffy and kinda squirmy-looking, but he's really a misunderstood soul trying to make art in an uncaring world that doesn't pay him any attention - you know, an artiste. He's also the type of guy who apparently doesn't have a second thought about cheating on his wife, played by Cameron Diaz.

That's another thing I forgot about this movie, Cameron Diaz is in it. Sure, they fizz up her hair and dress her in frumpy clothes to try to make you not notice it is Cameron Diaz but you can't hide that a Cameron with that much Diaz no matter how fizzy her hair or frumpy her clothing. It's just not scientifically possible.

The first act of the movie has no Malkovich in it but does have a lot of puppets and animals in it -Cameron Diaz's Lotte has a lot of pets, it's her quirk. She wears frumpy clothing, she's nice, and she has a lot of pets.

For some reason if you type "being john malkovich cameron diaz ape" into Google Images, this also shows up.

So the basic plot of Being John Malkovich is that a struggling puppeteer named Craig finds a portal into the mind of John Malkovich in the office he works in on the 7&1/2 floor of the Mertin Flemmer building. He strikes a partnership with Maxine, a woman who also works on the 7&1/2 floor that he develops an obsession with, to monetize 'being John Malkovich'.

However Diaz's Lotte goes into Malkovich while Maxine is on a date with him and she and Maxine form a rather unusual relationship where they see each other but only while Lotte is in Malkovich. This causes Craig to become insane with jealousy and he locks Lotte up in their ape cage, they have an ape cage, and pretends to be Lotte inside Malkovich to sex up Maxine. But Craig can take Malkovich over completely instead of just look out his eyes and experience what he's feeling.

Craig, as Malkovich, use Malkovich's fame to kick off his puppetry career and becomes a celebrated puppeteer. Maxine aware that Craig is in control acts as his manager but gets withdrawn as she grows increasingly pregnant. Pregnant with Lotte/Malkovich's child, not Craig/Malkovich's.

Some stuff happens, some old people who want to live on the vessel that is John Malkovich trick Craig out of him, while Maxine and Lotte raise their daughter together. Oh, and Craig is trapped in the mind of their daughter, watching the world through the eyes of his lover's child...

"That's fucked up, yo" - Might not be an actual quote.

The reason I rattled off a synopsis of the film is twofold. One, it's to highlight just how crazy and inventive the script is. Again this is a film that opens with puppets and includes a portal into John Malkovich's mind. Second, it's so I can state for the record that I forgot everything single thing about this film that didn't include "portal into John Malkovich's mind" and "7&1/2 floor".

Quick side note, the 7&1/2 floor thing is interesting since Being John Malkovich came out 2 years after the first Harry Potter novel but the script would have been written around the same time. No real comment to make here since I'm not sure why the idea of platforms and floors existing in fractions was a thing at the time but apparently it was.

"I think I would prefer a magical train platform than a floor with low overhead." - Maxine, probably

Back to things I forgot about Being John Malkovich. I forgot about the weird Malkovich love trianle with Lotte/Malkovich, Maxine and Craig/Malkovich. I forgot about the ape cage. I forgot about the old people. And I forgot that Craig is actually the bad guy.

To be fair, at first the movie wants you to think that Craig is the protagonist. The film opens with him and we are introduced to everything through his eyes since he is the introductory character. His actions drive the plot, particularly in the first half.

Who, me?

However, there is a shift around the mid-point of the film or so where he becomes the antagonist of the film for the real protagonist, Lotte. I would pinpoint this shift around about the time he locks her in a cage and pretends to be her inside Malkovich while making love with Maxine. That would probably be the point where he stops being the 'good guy' in any sense, not that he was particularly likable to begin with.

This is interesting to me since I like the way in which Kaufman is playing with our expectations, first with what we expect of our protagonists and then by showing that the people we thought the story was about are really the villains of their own story, not the hero.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Musing Rating: 5 Ratings

The type of film that is so thought-provoking that you completely forget everything about it.




References:

Being John Malkovich Wikipedia page

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