Friday, August 01, 2014

Being John Malkovich

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

WARNING:  I’m going to give away a lot of detail about this movie.  I’m not sure that this will ruin it, but some people don’t like to know a lot about a movie going into it.  You’ve been warned.

Being John Malkovich is one of those movies that I’ve heard about, but didn’t really know much about.  I knew it was about a guy, played by John Cusack, that finds a way to literally get inside John Malkovich’s head for 15 minutes and that John Malkovich played himself.  I had always wondered how they made a 112-minute movie about that.  It turns out that this is only a small part of the story.

Craig Schwartz is the name of the guy that Cusack plays.  Craig is married to Lotte, who cares for injured animals.   He’s a puppeteer who performs on the street.  The stuff he performs is not suitable for general audiences.  When a father objects to his daughter seeing Craig’s act, Craig is forced to find a new line of work.  That search lands him a job in an office filing.  (He figures the dexterity required to work a puppet will carry over well, which it does.)

This is where it starts to get strange.  The office is on floor 7½ of an office building.  (How do you get to floor 7½ of an office building?  You have to hit the emergency stop and pry the door open with a crowbar.)  He gets a job at LesterCorp, which is run by one very strange Dr. Lester.  (Due to a secretary that can’t seem to understand anyone, Dr. Lester is worried that no one can understand him.)  One day, Craig discovers a door behind a filing cabinet.  Behind this door is a dirty, muddy crawlspace that puts Craig in John Malkovich’s head.  Craig can’t control Malkovich, but he sees and hears everything that Malkovich sees and hears.  After 15 minutes, he finds himself forcibly ejected just off the New Jersey Turnpike.

He makes his way back, not sure what to make of it.  He starts hitting on Maxine, a coworker.  (Lotte is just annoying enough that you can forgive him.)  In an act of desperation, Craig tells Maxine of the doorway.  They hatch a plan to charge $200 for people to experience life as John Malkovich.  People are so pleased with this that they have no shortage of customers.  Also, Maxine seems to enjoy making love to Malkovich while Lotte is in his body, creating a bizarre love triangle.

The only reason that Malkovich even catches on is that Craig goes into his body and  momentarily takes over, causing Malkovich to be come increasingly paranoid.  One night, he follows Maxine back to LesterCorps and finds out about the whole business of messing with his head.  (You’re probably wondering what would happen if John Malkovich went inside his own head.  You get to find out.)  This really makes him mad.

Lotte spills everything to Dr. Lester, who reveals that he not only knows about the portal, he has used it.  The portal leads to a series of ’vessels’, or people that will become ripe on their 44th birthday.  If someone is occupying the vessel at the stroke of midnight, that person takes over the vessel permanently.  How the portal was created or how a vessel is chosen is not explained.  It’s Dr. Lester’s plan to take over John Malkovich soon.

The only problem is that Craig has figured out how to take over John Malkovich long term.  Due to his experience as a  puppeteer, he can control John Malkovich as long as he wants.  Since few other people know about this, it seems strange to the world when John Malkovich starts going by John Horatio Malkovich and starts a career as a puppeteer.  He’s good at it, as Craig is doing the actual work, but no one saw this coming.  Will Dr. Lester be able to get Craig out of John Horatio Malkovich’s head in time?   I’ll leave that to you to find out if you want to watch the movie.

This is an interesting movie.  I don’t think everyone will enjoy it, though.  It’s just offbeat enough that it may turn some people off.  There are all sorts of questions like how is the vessel chosen?  Are there other portals?  How was the portal created?  The movie doesn’t go into this, which is probably a good thing.  I’m not sure this information would have necessarily furthered the story.

John Malkovich was a great choice for the vessel.  They needed someone that people knew, but not someone that was incredibly famous.  As a cabbie put it, he’s that guy from the jewel-heist movie.  (For those wondering, Malkovich points out that he hasn’t been in a jewel-heist movie.)  He’s also able to express the paranoia well.  (I find it ironic that he turns to Charlie Sheen for help, who asks him if he’s been using drugs.)

One thing I wonder is how much puppetry Malkovich and Cusack learned for their roles.  The puppetry is done well.  There are so many details like this that I think that this was a very well-done movie, even if it is a bit strange.  As I said, it’s not going to be for everyone.  Some people will probably turn it off fifteen minutes in while others will want to watch it a second time.  I’m not sure I’d recommend it to everyone, but there are a few people I know that might enjoy it.

Being John Malkovich - Trailer - HQ 

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