Puppetry is control. So are acting, filing, and pet care. Each in its own way signals an attempt to make sense of the chaos that is lived experience, to grab hold of it and make it do what you want. And each, in "Being John Malkovich," director Spike Jonze's and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's exhilarating mind-meld, fails spectacularly.
Out today on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection, with all the usual sundry goodies, "Malkovich" manages, in all its strangeness, to be both a comedy of sex and identity on the Shakespearean model and a faintly haunting tale of desperation. A randy secretary with bad hearing — "I'm not banging her if that's what you're thinking," her boss says, a propos of nothing — bumps up against the score's foreboding downward scales and an increasing sense that things are going to end badly. It takes a certain kind of demented genius to make film harmony from this sort of discord, and both Jonze and Kaufman fit the bill admirably.
Craig and Lotte Schwartz (John Cusack and Cameron Diaz) are suffering through a blandly unhappy marriage — there are creepy puppets; there's a chimpanzee with daddy issues — when Craig discovers a portal into the body of the actor John Malkovich. Before long, Craig and a co-worker, Maxine (Catherine Keener), are charging people $200 a pop to take Malkovich for a spin, and the actor becomes a refuge for the depressed, the repressed, the obsessed, and the unrequited — particularly Craig and Lotte.