Philosophy through Film: Being John Malkovich

I’m taking a class this semester called Philosophy through Film, and one of the assignments is to write a journal entry for each movie we watch.  My previous entries are on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,  MementoPulp FictionOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestGroundhog Day,  Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the Matrix.

that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them.

Gwendolen, The Importance of Being Earnest

Being John Malkovich and Identity

This film presents a metaphysical theory about the relationship between the mind and the body, but (as I discussed in my Pulp Fiction entry) I find metaphysics inherently banal, especially so in film.

What I'm more interested in is the authenticity of the characters' reactions to experiencing a different body.  The film certainly provides a lot of explicit statements and cues that the physical form of a person or thing is not necessarily reflective of the way that person or thing feels about itself.

Craig is a dramatic puppeteer, who sets himself up on street corners and puts on elaborate dramas.  Lotte takes care of animals professionally, but her go-to doctor is an allergist -- obviously, her body isn't suited to her chosen profession.  They both find themselves on a floor that's half the size they are, where the standard of comprehensibility of speech is set by the apparently partially deaf receptionist.

Everyone in this movie is chronically out of context.  Except, arguably, Maxine, for whom no context is ever provided.

The movie definitely suggests the possibility that a body can be wrong for a person.  Lotte is obviously uncomfortable in her body.  Even before the portal, she has allergies.  Craig builds his profession around trying to occupy other bodies.  The implication seems to be that these characters want for their bodies to be disposable -- and in the film, they are.

Notably, they all want Malkovich for different reasons.  Craig wants him for his fame.  Lotte wants him for his biological form.  Lester wants him for his potential to be immortal, and Maxine wants him (insofar as she wants a relationship with him) to exploit Malkovich's status and qualities as proxies in her relationships with Craig and Lotte.