Have you ever wanted to be someone else? 

What if I told you that for one hour and fifty-three minutes, you could? No, I’m afraid you can’t choose who you will be, but by simply watching the film Being John Malkovich, you can at least become a struggling artist, a pet shop worker, a sexy office drone, and even John Malkovich …. you know, the actor? He was in lots of things ... that jewel thief movie, for example.

Once you begin the BJM experience, you will experience the lives of these characters as they contemplate the nature of self, question their own self-identity, and struggle with artistic dissatisfaction and loneliness. You will see, through their experiences, how connection and love can be fickle, manipulative, and controlling. 

For example, during the experience of Craig Schwartz [played by John Cusick, who was also in lots of things ... that bowling movie, for example] you will see how an unemployed puppeteer takes a job as a file clerk on the 7 ½ floor of the Mertin-Flemmer building. There, he falls in love with Maxine [Catherine Keener, also known for her performance in other things such as that psychic movie] even though he is married to frizzy-haired Lotte [Cameron Diaz, from The Mask] who keeps their apartment filled with animals, including a chimp named Elijah who suffers from repressed childhood memories and whose character development will become a major plot point in your experience.

If that isn’t enough, you will eventually see how Craig finds a mysterious portal [or birth canal?] behind a tiny door in his office which allows a person to go inside the head of John Horatio Malkovich for fifteen minutes before it spits them out into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey turnpike.

Your journey will be brought to you by Charlie Kaufman [writer for The Dana Carvey Show] and director Spike Jonze, who helped create Jackass and directed that Weezer video where it looks like Happy Days

Now, you probably have questions—don’t worry. Everything will be covered in the orientation.  

For now, just know that Kaufman began this experience as a simple story of “a man who falls in love with someone who is not his wife” before he added other elements, like the now famous 7 ½ floor and Dr. Lester’s unrequited love with a speech pathologist. A second story, about a portal that leads you into someone else’s consciousness, was developed separately. Only when Kaufman combined the two was the BJM experience that we now know of created. 

Surprisingly, Kaufman found that while people [including the real John Malkovich] found his spec screenplay inventive and funny, no one would turn it into an actual film. Finally, music video director Spike Jonze got involved, and with help from producer Michael Stipe [the singer of that song where everybody in a traffic jam gets really sad] helped get it made. They were even able to do it without having to change the film to Being Tom Cruise, which many producers wanted to do. In the end, Kaufman got his way—he had refused to use any actor other than Malkovich anyway.

The finished film would mark just the beginning of a creative collaboration between Kaufman and Jonze, and eventually, another music video director by the name of Michel Gondry. In this way, Being John Malkovich can be seen as essential in the eventual creation of other forms of comedic fantasy, such as Adaptation., Human Nature, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Kaufman, who closely worked with these directors in an attempt to control his artistic intent, would eventually enlist their help in getting his own movies made—movies which which go further down the rabbit hole of identity and artistic intent: Synecdoche New York and Anomalisa.  

In the end, however, the creative breaking of narrative conventions that Kaufman and his directors achieved would lose out to the new Hollywood model of formulaic superhero films and remakes of remakes, but for a while, these new ways of filmmaking would capture the attention of all those who experienced the alternate lives of the characters within.  Jonze would even continue to gain major exposure with his adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are and his own original script, Her.

But it all began in a small office on the 7 ½ floor of the Mertin-Flemmer building, and with a door that would lead into another world—if only for fifteen minutes. Most people find the experience pleasurable, but if you do not, I apologize. There are no refunds in the business of becoming someone else for a little while, of being inside another skin, thinking differently, moving differently, feeling differently. If you find the experience at all upsetting, just remember: at least you can always look away. Your everyday life will be waiting for you when you return, just the way you left it.

We hope you enjoy your experience of being someone else with Being John Malkovich, and to help you in your journey, we will be covering the following topics during the rest of this week’s orientation:

  • The Cinessential Podcast, Episode 16
  • More on the working relationship between Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze
  • Filmography of Spike Jonze's music video career
  • Related Review of Kaufman's other puppet film, Anomalisa
  • And more!