Jul 19, 2013

Being John Malkovich: I'd Rather Be Anyone Else

In one of the most iconic heterosexist moments of the 1980s, Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) holds a boombox over his head to win the Girl of His Dreams (Ione Skye) in Say Anything (1989).

Ten years later, in Being John Malkovich (1999), he plays the grotesque, greasy-haired, spotty-moustached Craig Schwartz, a puppeteer who trots his creepy marionettes out onto the streets of Manhattan to perform the Medieval heterosexual romance Abelard and Heloise, with the expected anxiety from audiences (he gets beat up before we find out how he intends to stage the castration scene).  He isn't bringing in any money, and neither is his ditzy wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), who is busy filling their small apartment with a menagerie: birds, dogs, even a chimp.

Craig has to get a job, so he answers an ad for a file clerk in an office on the "7 1/2th floor," where the ceiling is only 5 feet from the floor -- nothing to do with the plot, just weird.

He crushes on coworker Maxine (Catherine Keener), and asks her out on a date.  During the date he admits to being married.  She immediately asks: "Are you a FAG????"

1. What's with the homophobia, in 1999 Manhattan?
2. Is that really the first thing that pops into a woman's mind when a man who wants to have sex with her admits that he's having sex with another woman?

Craig and Maxine find, inexplicably, a portal that leads into the mind of then-unknown actor John Malkovich (playing himself).  So they open a business, charging people $200 to spend 15 minutes seeing the world through the eyes of John Malkovich, as he runs errands and does chores.

Lotte takes the tour, really likes it, and announces that she's a transman: "Everything seemed right."   Craig disapproves.  Nothing comes of it.  I guess she changed her mind.

Maxine begins an affair with Malkovich.  She is particularly interested in him when Lotte is inhabiting his body -- she likes the femininity.  Lesbian, sort of?  But then Craig finds a way to inhabit Malkovich permanently, controlling all of his movements, so Maxine sticks with him.  Back to hetero.

Craig/Malkovich gives up acting and becomes a puppeteer.  Abelard and Heloise becomes a smash hit.

Nine months later, Craig is ousted from Malkovich's body, and Maxine returns to Lotte (in her own body).  They become a lesbian couple.  Maxine is pregnant from sex with Malkovich with Lotte inside, so it's really Lotte's baby.  Sort of.

I like quirky movies, but this is by far the weirdest movie I have ever seen. And one of the most unpleasant to watch.  The color palette is gray and washed-out, the male actors are almost uniformly hideous (although John Malkovich has a nice physique), the marionettes disquieting, and I can't even begin to parse out the gender identity misconceptions.

And taking over John Malkovich's body, controlling all of his movements as if he is a marionette -- isn't that a horrible violation, like rape times ten?  Yet no one in the movie gives it a second thought.  They keep congratulating each other over their cleverness.

Plus this is a gay-free Manhattan, except for the homophobic slur.