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Saturday, June 22, 2024

WUD weekend preview: 'Being John Malkovich' will blow your mind

What, or more specifically, who is a man? Is he a product of some nebulous inner force, or is he rather the sum of the externalities that influence his lifestyle and behavior? Can one person force another to be something they aren’t, or will a person always possess enough free will to preserve their identity and their consciousness? Is identity itself a malleable and programmable force?

You'll probably be too busy marveling at “Being John Malkovich's” sheer, unashamed ludicrous premise to realize it's asking these questions. I wouldn’t call the film convoluted, but I have this feeling it would be right up David Lynch’s alley.

So what would you do if you found a portal that put you inside another person’s body? There's a temptation, I think, to try and become somebody that you’re not—something everybody experiences from time to time. I like to play video games so I can take on a role that exists outside of my current reality, and I’m not alone. But now imagine you’re in a real body, a living, breathing, warm, fleshy receptacle that walks and talks and eats and screws and sits around the kitchen ordering a new bathroom rug. And then… what if you could control it?

“Being John Malkovich” shows us what happens when a deluded, unhappy, yet very talented, puppeteer named Craig (John Cusack) discovers a way to escape his burnt, ruinous identities and hide in the mind of John Malkovich.

I have the oddest feeling Charlie Kaufman wrote“Being John Malkovich” while under the influence, if you know what I mean. This strange exploration of a bald, stocky man with prominent ears is equal parts funny and sobering, usually one because of the other, but it’s also just insane—beautifully, horribly, hypnotically insane. It’s the kind of movie that is difficult to stop watching because it presents itself in such a balanced manner. It’s not too silly, but it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. Which is good, because there’s no possible way to take the film seriously within any construct of rationality.

If “Being John Malkovich” has any problems, they're merely ones of taste. It’s not the kind of movie anyone can just pick up and have a good time. I liked it, but that doesn’t mean I loved it. It’s got several truly brilliant sequences that stick out in my mind, like when two characters are chasing through Malkovich’s subconscious and all the background events are little moments throughout his life. There’s also the point when Malkovich enters his own mind, which had me spluttering.

One rather clever thing is Craig’s role as a puppeteer. He’s a man, if you’ll pardon some spoilers, who crafts little facsimiles of people so he can make them behave how he wishes them to. And that’s what he ends up doing to Malkovich. We feel sympathy for Craig, being trapped in a disinterested world, but he’s not the nicest person. In fact, some of his actions later in the film make him downright reprehensible.

Perhaps “Being John Malkovich” is a cautionary tale—an examination of internal and external identity and how trying to be someone you’re not is a very dangerous game to play, especially when that somebody you’re not is somebody else. However you choose to interpret it, it’s definitely a film you should go see for yourself at Union South this Friday Nov. 8 or Saturday Nov. 9 at Midnight.

But if you don’t want to, I can understand that. It’s your choice, after all.

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