Forgotten Classics – ‘Being John Malkovich’
Forgotten Classics is a recurring feature, a look back and reflection on great motion pictures that often slip under the radar and become under-appreciated, ignored relics of a previous era or simply damned by lack of face time in the spotlight.
Being John Malkovich
Directed by Spike Jonze
Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman
It takes real skill to come up with a film of indisputable weirdness and make it high concept, so from this salient fact we can safely conclude that Charlie Kaufman is one hell of a writer. 1999’s Being John Malkovich, Kaufman and director Spike Jonze’s screen debut, can be described in one curt sentence: ‘Struggling and restless puppeteer discovers a portal leading into the mind of actor John Malkovich’.
That’s it, that’s the premise. Throw in a five foot high office floor, an ape with abandonment issues, bald Charlie Sheen and one of cinema’s most benign immortality seeking conspiracy syndicates and you have a wonderfully surreal yet illogically grounded experience.
The puppeteer is Craig Schwartz, played by a near unrecognizable John Cusack, whose street art displays are as successful as the punches to his face suggest. Home life’s not much better, where his dowdy, animal loving wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz, again looking nothing like the film star of the same name) devotes more time to her array of neurotic house pets than to her equally caged spouse. In need of cash, Craig takes an accountancy job at an office building and becomes a resident of floor 7 ½, accessible by hijacking the elevator controls and necessitating the need to stoop at all times. Here he finds two things that will change his unfulfilled life forever: Maxine (Catherine Keener), the smoky and sultry colleague who steals his unrequited affections, and a small tunnel hidden behind a filing cabinet which leads to the aforementioned portal.