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'Being John Malkovich' from Criterion: The Actor, The Geek, His Wife, and Her Lover

Photo of Matt Brennan By Matt Brennan | Thompson on Hollywood! May 14, 2012 at 12:53PM

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.
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John Cusack, Catherine Keener, and Cameron Diaz in "Being John Malkovich"
John Cusack, Catherine Keener, and Cameron Diaz in "Being John Malkovich"

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.

This article is related to: Reviews, DVDs, Directors, Stuck In Love, Headliners


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.