Review: Being John Malkovich

The film employs a surrealist vernacular that owes plenty to Buñuel and Svankmajer.

Being John Malkovich
Photo: USA Films

Spike Jonze’s Kafkaesque romp Being John Malkovich grapples with the nature of celebrity and idenity and plumbs the deepest depths of subconscious desire, employing a surrealist vernacular that owes plenty to Buñuel and Svankmajer. John Malkovich’s head substitutes for Alice’s rabbit-hole: 15 minutes inside and you’ll emerge not only enlightened but also hungry for more. When puppeteer Craig (John Cusack) locks his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) inside her chimpanzee Elijah’s cage, this perpetuates all sorts of separation anxieties. Elijah’s recollection of his parents’ kidnapping is at once devastating and hysterical (truly the only one of its kind) but it’s no non sequitur-Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay is a rich tapestry of interconnected wavelengths, both conscious and subconscious, and this monkey is very much part of its complex existential formula. Or, more accurately, the monkey seems to be part of the script’s existential solution. If it looks safe inside Elijah’s cage that’s because the monkey’s relationship to Lotte is the only one in the film that’s pure-it neither hinges on sexual gratification nor is it permitted by an altered state. While everyone is contemplating ways of transcending the reality of their mortality via infinite tunnels of existential highs, you may ask, “Why doesn’t anyone try to Be Elijah?”

 Cast: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, Mary Kay Place, Orson Bean, Charlie Sheen, Ned Bellamy  Director: Spike Jonze  Screenwriter: Charlie Kaufman  Distributor: USA Films  Running Time: 112 min  Rating: R  Year: 1999  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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