“Being John Malkovich” has always been an enigma to me.
I was first made aware of the film when I was in high school and had just begun falling in love with movies, but admittedly I didn’t know much about it. I pretty much only knew it as that weird movie in which there are multiple John Malkovichs. I think I was vaguely aware that the film had been nominated for a few Oscars following its release in 1999, but I was never really sold on the idea of watching it.
And yet, over the years, I was always acutely aware of the film’s existence. I made a hypothesis of sorts in my head over what the film was actually about. It was an oddball film that I hadn't seen, and it was fun to wonder what wild things might be hidden in its story.
This week I finally decided to watch “Being John Malkovich,” and while the film wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be, it did certainly provide the experience I was looking for.
To put it plainly, “Being John Malkovich” is one of the wackiest movies I have ever seen.
The film is about a small group of people who discover a strange tunnel that, when crawled through, allows them to enter the mind of actor John Malkovich and experience his life for 15 minutes before being spit out on a highway outside of New York City. During their 15 minutes in Malkovich’s head, people can quite literally experience the world from his perspective. They see through his eyes and feel the way he feels. They're metaphysically seated in his head, buckled up for a ride. The central characters of the film decide to take turns entering Malkovich’s mind, but ultimately they become obsessed with his life and try to take it over.
The story of “Being John Malkovich” is reminiscent of something you would expect to hear from some random stoned kid whom you don’t know at a party. (“Man, imagine if you could see the world through John Malkovich’s eyes and, like, control him like a puppet!”) It sounds super strange and you would never expect to actually see it in action. And yet, this movie not only exists but was nominated for several Oscars.
I kind of loved and hated this movie, but I mostly loved it.
I adored it for the pure absurdity of its concept and how its makers decided to execute that idea. All the characters in the movie are oddballs trying to find their way through life, and the way they ultimately settle upon a lifestyle is literally through John Malkovich. It’s a wild ride, and as the film goes on, it manages to build some decent emotional drama into the situation. “Being John Malkovich” turns into a strange analysis of one’s desire to be like someone else. The film is more than just Malkovich-inspired oddities — it actually has a very well-thought-out and delivered message about accepting who you are.
On the other hand, I kind of hated the movie because it was so bizarre.
There was something about the experience of watching “Being John Malkovich” that was maddening. I’m not entirely sure what it was, though. Maybe it was the occasionally awful dialogue? Maybe it was the odd lack of a narrative direction? Maybe it was just the inexplicable and perplexing atmosphere of the whole film? I genuinely don’t know. In the most confusing of ways, the film simultaneously feels like the dumbest and most brilliant thing I’ve ever watched, and I don’t think my brain knows what to do with that.
Moving on to a more concrete observation, the cast of the film was fantastic.
The main characters are portrayed by John Cusack, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener. They all did fantastic jobs embracing the bizarre nature of the film while still portraying their characters as genuine people. The real star of the show though is, unsurprisingly, John Malkovich, who plays himself. It is an absolute blast watching Malkovich in this film purely because it’s apparent how much fun he’s having. He gets into all sorts of wacky situations, and he really just eats them up.
Side note: I love thinking about the meeting in which Malkovich was pitched this movie. He’s not a producer, writer or anything similar for the film, so that means that somebody else came up with this idea and brought it to him. What was his reaction? What was that conversation like? The world needs to know.
“Being John Malkovich” was basically a meme of a movie, except it came out well before memes as we know them even existed. In that sense, you could say this movie was way ahead of its time.
I have absolutely no clue how I would give any sort of rating to this movie, but I certainly recommend watching it. I had an absolute blast watching the movie, and there were multiple times I found myself almost hysterical at the events unfolding. It’s just a weird movie in almost every way I can think of. It almost feels like it shouldn’t exist, but it does, and I’m glad it does.