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Being John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich is a 1999 . . . slipstream movie, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation of 2000.

My first movie review!

Non-Spoiler Summary

A puppeteer with an. . . odd filing job discovers a portal, a literal door, into the brain of the actor John Malkovich.

Why should you watch it?

This movie contains ideas and moments that are not, and actually can not be, examined in any other movie.  The nature of the conceit is absolutely unique in fiction as far as I know, and the fact that they were able to get John Malkovich to star is amazing, considering the script was written focussing on him on spec, without having him on contract.

This was one of the very first movies I ever saw twice on opening weekend–the material was that compelling.  I had spent enough of my first viewing with my jaw dropped that I wanted to see it again immediately, and my partner felt the same.  I have seen it a couple of times since, making this perhaps my fifth viewing.  I continue to watch the mixture of humor, deadpan delivery, and . . . insanity with amazement.

That said, I have enough distance now to see that this is a very flawed movie, that in my opinion should have been recut and the entire first half hour to forty-five minutes either removed or integrated into the body of the movie.  And many parts that are, sadly, just not very good.  But the parts that are good are so, so good.

The portal allows the puppeteer Craig Schwartz to first experience what Malkovich is experiencing, quietly riding along for fifteen minutes, before being ejected.  He and a partner start a business using Malkovich as a “thrill ride”, selling fifteen minutes in Malkovich for $200.  However, Schwartz and his wife both experience time in Malkovich, and begin a very odd relationship with Maxine, his partner.  During this time, Schwartz discovers that his skill as a puppeteer actually allows him to control Malkovich, and not to be ejected.  And he steals Malkovich’s body and life, using his new host’s fame to further his own agenda and make puppeteering a vital, popular art-form.

(I am deliberately not summarizing the last third of the movie, as I can neither do it justice nor do I think a description would increase your interest in the movie.  While it’s fascinating, it’s as much about the delivery as the ideas.)

Where to find Being John Malkovich

The movie is not available freely.  It is available on Netflix and several other streaming services.

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