Having read the synopsis of ‘Being John Malkovich’ I very nearly avoided the film altogether. That word, ‘Puppets’, sent glaring warning signs to my brain and pre-emptive shivers down my spine. I’ve always found puppets terrifying, imbuing an inanimate object with life, or at least some semblance of it, gives me the heeby-ma-jeebies. And admittedly with the opening sequence being an expressionist dance, performed by a long–haired, naked John Cusack marionette, I balked and very nearly walked. However, both I and my stomach contents endured, and my genuine heroic bravery was rewarded the second I saw the incredibly low-ceilinged 7 ½ floor on which puppeteer, shudder, Craig (Cusack) works on. The 7 ½ floor was supposedly originally built for midgets that found high-ceilinged work environments oppressive and is now inhabited by a non-descript “filing company” to ‘keep overheads low’ Geddit? It is in this office that Craig finds a portal into John Malkovich’s (Malkovich. Heh) mind.
This is the central vehicle of the plot and once discovered is too domineering in the questions it provokes to stray from. These questions are provoked through the interesting ways in which people use, or more appropriately misuse, John’s mind. The film dips its toe into questions of ‘Self’ and the soul, but seems to shirk these heavy issues in favour of something wholly more cinematic: A love triangle. Or a love square. Or a love triangle with a line attached to it. I won’t say any more about plot, I shall just leave your attention piqued and your whistle whetted. I really can’t give this film enough of a glowing indictment. It’s charming both visually and in its writing, Kauffman can be described as nothing short of genius in my opinion. There aren’t too many films in which a chase scene through John Malkovich’s panty-sniffing subconscious would remind you of Buster Keaton emerging through walls and floors. The acting is perfectly judged too, especially by Malkovich himself, the notion of “malkovich himself” being somewhat alien to me right after watching this film.
Suffice to say I loved this film, I found it overflowing with charm and was smiling to myself for almost the entire film. It had everything I could want: philosophy, old people, tiny doors, a chimp, a Charlie Sheen, a notion of being “meta”. To return to an earlier thought: I don’t like puppets because they’re pieces of wood being manipulated, made to look like they’re human, like they have souls. And ‘souls’ are a bit of a cinematic no-go. They’re intangible. They’re invisible. They can’t be caught on 78mm or even RED EPIC. The best way, it seems, to deal with souls is to talk about them and JUST talking is pretty much the least cinematic thing out there. But what ‘Being John Malkovich’ does is show us about souls, not tell us about them, and it does it frankly brilliantly.
Review By Joe Jordan