Revisit the Beautifully Insane Existence of "Being John Malkovich" Review

Although his penchant for absurd, surreal writing is now widely known, in 1999 Charlie Kaufman was not one of Hollywood’s best-known writers. Having written for five television series, Being John Malkovich was Kaufman’s first venture into film. And it was the first time he had been able to showcase, solely on his own terms, his ability to tell a story—a wholly unique story, at that—through unconventional means.

As well, Being John Malkovich was the first opportunity for Spike Jonze to get behind the camera for a feature-length film. His previous work had consisted of short documentaries and music videos. Looking to expand his horizons, he was able to take Kaufman’s script and preserve the qualities that make it so unique.

With the Criterion Collection release of Being John Malkovich, I was able to revisit a film that, when I first saw it, really struck me. I used the word “unique” above to describe it, but that doesn’t really do the film justice. There’s something insane about it—something beautifully insane.

John Cusack plays Craig Schwartz, an unemployed puppeteer, married to Lotte, the most un-Cameron Diaz Cameron Diaz has ever been in a film. After landing a clerk position, Schwartz finds himself working on Floor 7 1/2, an office with ceilings half the height of those of a normal office. Strange, right? It gets stranger.

When Schwartz finds a door behind a file cabinet, he steps through and soon discovers he is in the mind of actor John Malkovich. After 15 minutes, he is tossed out onto the side of the road of the New Jersey Turnpike. When he tells his co-worker (for whom he has feelings), Maxine, played by an Oscar-nominated (supporting) Catherine Keener, the two realize they can make money by charging people to spend time “being” John Malkovich.

In addition to Keener’s Oscar nomination, Kaufman and Jonze were each nominated as well, for original screenplay and direction, respectively.

While the peculiarities and eccentricities of Being John Malkovich certainly bolster its quality, the story is assuredly excellent in and of itself. It’s a great story told in a great way. With sharp performances from all involved, a great ending, and pitch-perfect direction, Being John Malkovich is a truly remarkable, at times breathtaking, work of art.

DVD Bonus Features

The Criterion Collection features a ton of extras: selected-scene commentary from Jonze’s friend Michel Gondry, a behind-the-scenes documentary by filmmaker Lester Bangs, a new conversation between Malkovich and humorist John Hodgman, a new interview with Jonze, two short films, a documentary on puppeteering by Bangs, a trailer, TV spots and a booklet featuring a conversation between Jonze and pop-culture critic Perkus Tooth.

"Being John Malkovich (The Criterion Collection)" is on sale November 30, -0001 and is rated R. Comedy. Directed by Spike Jonze. Written by Charlie Kaufman. Starring Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Cusack, John Malkovich.

Daniel Berkowitz • Staff Writer

In addition to freelancing for websites and magazines, Daniel is a student at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before enrolling, he played baseball and majored in Religious Studies at Vassar College. His senior thesis discussed the value of comedy in democracy.


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