Tuesday, November 3, 2009

#441: Being John Malkovich (1999)

Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: John Cusack, Catherine Keener, Cameron Diaz & John Malkovich

Craig Schwartz is a puppeteer on the streets of New York, but is coming to grips with the fact that he's not earning enough money. His wife Lotte urges him to take a desk job, which he takes at a filing agency on the 7th-and-a-half floor of a Manhattan building. There, while staying late one day, he discovers a small door behind a filing cabinet. Crawling in, he is soon sucked into the body of John Malkovich. For fifteen minutes, he sees through Malkovich's eyes and feels through his skin. After fifteen minutes, he is thrown out of Malkovich onto the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. He soon starts a business of selling tickets into Malkovich, working alongside his coworker Maxine, who he has fallen in lust with. When Lotte takes the "Malkovich Ride", she feels more comfortable than in her own body, deciding she wants a sex change, but her decision is overridden when on her second trip in Malkovich, she finds herself on a date with Maxine. In this quirky, slightly perverse film, questions subtly arise on sex, gender and identity in the most oddly hysterical fashion.

I friggin' love this movie. All the characters are just so bizarre, but despite their oddities and the completely messed up situation they find themselves in, everybody takes it in stride - as they should, being true New Yorkers. John Cusack is great in this role, being able to start as a sad character and growing more and more awkward as his control of Malkovich is enhanced. Whoever cast Cameron Diaz as Lotte is genius; the first time I saw the film, I didn't even realize it was her under that ridiculous explosion of hair and her clothes straight from a dingy thrift shop. And despite her established persona as the ditzy blonde, she pulls off this identity-confused hippy-type very well, while still having that strong will for happiness that her characters always have. Oh, and Catherine Keener is fantastic as always - she always plays a great bitch.

The filming style is similar to that of a music video, which is most apparent when Lotte is chasing Maxine through Malkovich's troubled subconsciousness. The gritty style of filmmaking works well in this Kafka-esque storyline.

Great stuff. Go check this out if you haven't already, it's a pretty big mind-fudge.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • In the first draft of the script, Lester and his friends weren't using Malkovich's portal as a means for extending their lives, but in a plot to take over the world in the name of Satan. Satan was the mysterious 'Flemmer' that the Merton-Flemmer building was half named after.
  • The play that Craig was performing with his puppets (when he gets smacked by an angry parent) is based on the letters of Abelard and Heloise, written between 1115 and 1117 AD, which were found, copied and abridged by Johannes de Vepria, a 15th century Cistercian monk, into "Ex Epistolis duorum amantium" ("From the Letters of Two Lovers"). This became a classic document of early romantic (tragic) love used by many artists in their work including William Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliet". In addition, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's later project Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) took its title, and no small amount of inspiration, from Alexander Pope's "Eloisa to Abelard".
  • The bar-scene where Malkovich explores his own consciousness ("Malkovich, Malkovich"), was shot in the nightclub located on the 'Queen Mary'.

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