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Spike Jonze’s film Being John Malkovich, written by Charlie Kaufman, starts off like many movies we’ve seen: an unfulfilled man, unhappy about his failing career and marriage looks to another woman for fulfillment...then it takes a bizarre turn. Craig Schwartz, played by John Cusack, finds a strange doorway inside an equally strange office (the entire floor where he works is only half the size of a normal floor), and it leads directly into John Malkovich’s body.
Craig is a talented, but out of work puppeteer living with his wife, Lottie (Cameron Diaz) and their multitude of animals, include their pet monkey, Elijah who has been seeing a therapist because of an ulcer due to childhood trauma. At Lottie’s suggestion that he get a job in order to get out of his depression, Craig finds work at Lester Corp., a filing company that is in a non-traditional work environment. It’s on floor 7 ½, and is half the height of a normal floor. While at orientation for his new job, Craig swoons over Maxine, and soon engages her for drinks after work even though he is married.
Craig soon finds the hidden door to Malkovich’s body behind a filing cabinet in deep storage. After his first romp in John’s body, he’s most excited to tell Maxine in order to impress her. She instead turns it into a profitable business called JM Inc., charging $200 for a 15 minute journey into the skin of John Malkovich.
Things begin to go a different direction than expected for Craig when his wife wants to enter Malkovich, and after her experience she is hooked, as if something new has awakened in her, and she wants to explore gender reassignment surgery. After this, Maxine takes it upon herself to find Malkovich, date him and even set up making love to him while Lottie is inside of his body.
Both Craig and Lottie are now in love with Maxine, who rejects Craig as not being her type and tells Lottie she only likes her inside of Malkovich’s body. Craig become unhinged by Lottie and Maxine’s love affair. He takes Lottie captive, tying her up and putting her in Elijah’s (their monkey) cage while he enters Malkovich in order to sleep with Maxine.
Because Craig is a master puppeteer he is able to control Malkovich unlike Lottie, and decides to stay inside after Maxine is impressed by his love making. Craig, with his new vessel decides to transition Malkovich’s career into one as a puppeteer. In the meantime, Lottie goes to Dr. Lester who reveals himself as Captain Mertin, a sea captain who has been entering “vessels” (other people’s bodies) for centuries and offers her the chance to join he and his friends the chance to do the same, and live forever. All they have to do is enter an open vessel before midnight on their 44th birthday, and they will be able to stay alive.
We flash-forward and find that Maxine is pregnant, and Craig, as Malkovich, has become a phenomenon in both the art world and the world of pop culture as a master puppeteer. After a performance on his 44th birthday he comes home to discover Maxine has been kidnapped by Dr. Lester and Lottie, and if he doesn’t leave Malkovich’s body, before midnight they are going to kill her. He doesn’t want to do it, as he loves his life and the recognition he’s achieved, but chooses to let go of all that to save Maxine. When he does he learns that the child Maxine is carrying is actually Lottie’s, from the experience they had together while Lottie was inhabiting Malkovich, and that she is completely unhappy with Craig. She and Lottie run off together leaving Craig in a ditch off the New Jersey turnpike (which is where you get dumped out after your experience in Malkovich). Dr. Lester and his friends enter Malkovich, and we see that Maxine and Lottie’s daughter is now a vessel...and Craig is inside of her body, still longing to be with Maxine.
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Being John Malkovich is a 1999 American fantasydrama film directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, both making their feature film debut. The film stars John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, and Catherine Keener, with John Malkovich and Charlie Sheen as themselves. The film follows a puppeteer who finds a portal that leads into Malkovich's mind.
Released by USA Films, the film was nominated in three categories at the 72nd Academy Awards: Best Director for Jonze, Best Original Screenplay for Kaufman and Best Supporting Actress for Keener.
Craig Schwartz is an unemployed puppeteer in a forlorn marriage with his pet-obsessed wife Lotte. Gaining a file clerk job through Dr. Lester at LesterCorp, in the strange Floor 7½ low-ceiling offices of the Mertin-Flemmer Building in New York City, he develops an attraction to his coworker Maxine Lund, who does not return his affections. Craig enters a small door hidden behind a filing cabinet and finds himself in the mind of actor John Malkovich. Craig is able to observe and sense whatever Malkovich does for fifteen minutes before he is ejected and dropped into a ditch near the New Jersey Turnpike. He reveals the portal to Maxine and they let others use it for $200 a turn.
Craig tells Lotte, who becomes obsessed with the experience, allowing her to live out her transgender desires. Lotte becomes attracted to Maxine and they begin a sexual relationship via Lotte being inside Malkovich's head while Maxine has sex with Malkovich. Craig, forsaken by both women, binds and gags Lotte and locks her in a cage, then enters Malkovich's mind and has sex with Maxine. Craig, with his expert puppeteer skills, discovers that he is able to control Malkovich's actions while in his head, causing the actor to feel paranoid that he is being controlled by someone else. After Malkovich consults with his friend Charlie Sheen, Malkovich trails Maxine to the Mertin-Flemmer building, where he himself tries the portal into his own head and finds himself in a world where everyone's face looks like his and they can only say "Malkovich". He is then ejected and meets Craig by the turnpike. Malkovich demands that the portal be closed, but Craig refuses.
Lotte escapes with the help of her pet chimpanzee. She phones Maxine, revealing that it was Craig who was having sex with her while inside Malkovich. Maxine is annoyed but accepts it, because she enjoyed the experience. Seeking help, Lotte finds Lester, who reveals himself to be Captain Mertin, the original founder of LesterCorp. Lester is aware of the portal, and has a room dedicated to Malkovich's life. Lester explains that the person who is connected to the portal becomes "ripe" for lasting occupation by others on the eve of their 44th birthday. However, when the host turns 44, the portal immediately moves to its next host, an unborn child.
If it is possible for a person to take advantage of the "ripe" host and enter the portal then, one can greatly increase one's lifespan, and then one can eventually move on to another host. However, if one misses the brief window of "ripeness", and enters the portal even a minute too late, one will find oneself trapped within the unborn child who will be the next host. Lester, who has been using the portal in order to prolong his life, reveals his plan to use Malkovich when "ripe" as the host for him and several of his elderly friends. Offered the chance to join Lester's group, Lotte warns him that Craig currently has control of Malkovich.
Craig finds he is able to remain in Malkovich indefinitely. He spends the next eight months in Malkovich's body, and using his puppeteer's control, he is able to turn Malkovich into a world-class puppeteer. Malkovich marries Maxine. He learns that she is pregnant as their relationship grows distant.
As Malkovich's 44th birthday approaches, Lester and his friends cut a deal with Maxine, and fake her kidnapping. They call up Craig, threatening to kill her if Craig does not leave Malkovich. Craig ends the call, causing Lester to think that he is calling their bluff. Lotte loses hope and attempts to kill Maxine, but they end up at the turnpike after falling through the portal and through Malkovich's shame-ridden subconscious. Maxine reveals to Lotte that Maxine conceived when Lotte was inside Malkovich's body, and she kept the child because it is "theirs". The revelation cements their love for each other.
Craig calls back Lester, thinking Maxine is still in danger. Realizing his opportunity, Lester continues his bluff, convincing Craig to leave Malkovich's body. Lester and his friends enter the portal, taking control of Malkovich. Craig, discovering that Lotte and Maxine are together again, decides to enter the portal to become Malkovich and regain Maxine, however he has unknowingly missed the deadline for getting into Malkovich. Years later, an aging Malkovich, containing the collective mind of Lester and his friends, reveals to Sheen a plan to prolong their lives via Maxine's daughter Emily, within whom Craig is now permanently trapped. Through Emily's eyes Craig watches Maxine and Lotte living happily together.
Kaufman's idea of Being John Malkovich originated simply as "a story about a man who falls in love with someone who is not his wife." Gradually he added further elements to the story which he found entertaining, such as floor 7½ of the Mertin Flemmer building; in his first ideas, Malkovich was "nowhere to be seen". He wrote the script on spec in 1994 and though it was widely read by production company and film studio executives, all turned it down. Hoping to find a producer, Kaufman sent the script to Francis Ford Coppola, who passed it on to his then-son-in-law Spike Jonze.
Jonze first read the script in 1996 and had agreed to direct the film by 1997. Jonze brought the script to Propaganda Films, which agreed to produce the film in partnership with production company Single Cell Pictures. Single Cell producers Michael Stipe and Sandy Stern pitched the film to numerous studios, including New Line Cinema, who dropped the project after chairman Robert Shaye asked: "Why the fuck can't it be Being Tom Cruise?". Jonze revealed in a September 2013 interview that Malkovich asked him the same question during their first meeting and also relayed Malkovich's attitude after filming commenced:
Either the movie's a bomb and it's got not only my name above the title but my name in the title, so I'm fucked that way; or it does well and I'm just forever associated with this character.
Jonze explained in the same interview that he didn't realize how brave Malkovich's performance in the film was.
With a budget of $10 million,principal photography of Being John Malkovich began on July 20, 1998, and continued through August. Filming took place primarily in Los Angeles; specific locations included the University of Southern California campus and the Observation Bar on board the RMS Queen Mary.
The puppets in the film were created by Kamela Portuges and Images in Motion. Phillip Huber animated the puppets.
Diaz's make-up artist Gucci Westman described styling Diaz in the role as "a challenge, to make her look homely." The script included minimal physical descriptions of characters, and thus when Diaz took up the role she did not know that "people weren't going to recognize me."
Cusack read the film's script after he had asked his agent to present him with the "craziest, most unproduceable script you can find." Impressed with the script, he asked his agent to follow its progress and book him an audition, with which he won the role.
Keener cited Being John Malkovich as an instance of her taking up a role based on the director's previous work. She had heard about Jonze's experience with music videos and took up the part of Maxine although she initially disliked the character and did not feel that she was right for the part.
Charlie Kaufman said that there was never another actor in Malkovich's place in the script: "The screenplay was always "Being John Malkovich", even before I had any expectation that John Malkovich would even read the script." He chose Malkovich because he believed there to be "an enigmatic quality about him that works", though Malkovich was partly chosen because of the sound of his name in repetition. Kaufman explained that "When we were thinking of alternatives, we found that a lot of them weren't fun to say." Jonze's then-father-in-law Francis Ford Coppola was able to contact Malkovich, and Jonze flew with producer Sandy Stern to Malkovich's home in France. Stern said that Malkovich was "half intrigued and half horrified" when he first read the script, but he eventually agreed to star in the film.
Spike Jonze makes a cameo appearance as Derek Mantini's assistant; Mantini is billed in the story as the greatest puppeteer in the history of the world and arouses Schwartz's envy. Brad Pitt also has a half-second-long cameo, as a miffed star in the documentary on Malkovich's career, who seems to be on the verge of saying something before the shot ends. Sean Penn appears as a fictionalized version of himself and a fan of Malkovich's puppeteer work. Film director David Fincher makes an uncredited appearance as Christopher Bing in the American Arts & Culture pseudo-documentary on John Malkovich. Winona Ryder, Andy Dick, and the members of Hanson can be seen in the audience of a Malkovich puppet show.
Being John Malkovich was given limited release in the United States theatres on October 22, 1999, and opened across 25 screens. On its opening weekend, the film grossed US$637,731 across 25 screens with a per-screen average of $25,495. It expanded to another 150 screens the following week, bringing in $1.9 million with a per-screen average of $10,857. In its third week, the film's release widened to 467 locations and grossed $2.4 million, averaging a lower $5,041 per screen with a cumulative gross of $6.1 million. It moved into a wide release the next week, expanding to 591 screens, and grossed $1.9 million with a 20% drop in ticket sales. Its fifth week brought in $2.2 million with a 17% increase in ticket sales, which dropped a further 33% the following week despite further expansion to 624 screens. It finished its theatrical run after 26 weeks with a total gross of $22,863,596.
The film opened in the United Kingdom in March 2000, earning £296,282 in its debut week and closing after fifteen weeks with a total gross of £1,098,927. In France, the film opened in December 1999 with a gross of US$546,000 from 94 venues and went on to further success due to positive reviews and word of mouth. It grossed $205,100 from 109 screens on its opening weekend in Italy and ticket sales dropped by 37% the following week with a cumulative gross of $480,000 from 82 screens. Its German release brought in a total of $243,071.Being John Malkovich had a total foreign gross of $9,523,455, combined with its domestic gross to give an international total of over $32 million.
Being John Malkovich was initially released in 2000 on VHS, both as a regular edition and a limited edition collector's set, and on DVD, with special features including a theatrical trailer, TV spots, cast and crew biographies, the director's photo album and featurettes on floor 7½ and puppeteering. A special edition DVD, released later the same year, included the aforementioned features, an interview with Jonze and two behind-the-scenes featurettes. It was released on HD DVD in 2008. The Criterion Collection released a special edition of the film on Blu-ray and DVD in 2012.
All tracks written by Carter Burwell, except where noted.
|1.||"Amphibian" (Mark Bell Mix, written by Björk)||2:47|
|2.||"Malkovich Masterpiece Remix" (Written by Spike Jonze, performed by John Malkovich)||2:22|
|5.||"You Should Know"||0:34|
|11.||"Love on the Phone"||0:46|
|14.||"To Be John M"||1:59|
|16.||"Allegro from Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, SZ106" (Béla Bartók)||7:21|
|17.||"Carter Explains Scene 71 to the Orchestra"||0:29|
|18.||"Lotte Makes Love"||1:28|
|21.||"Amphibian" (Film Mix, written by Björk)||4:37|
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 93% "Certified Fresh" rating, based on 123 reviews, with an average rating of 8.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Being John Malkovich is both funny and smart, featuring a highly original script." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 90 out of 100, based on 36 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim." The film ranked 441st on Empire magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest films of all time.
In his review, Roger Ebert awarded the film a full four stars; he would later name it the best film of 1999. His comments of praise included: "Rare is the movie where the last half hour surprises you just as much as the first, and in ways you're not expecting. The movie has ideas enough for half a dozen films, but Jonze and his cast handle them so surely that we never feel hard-pressed; we're enchanted by one development after the next" and he also felt that "Either Being John Malkovich gets nominated for best picture, or the members of the Academy need portals into their brains." Another top critic Peter Rainer, writing for New York, commented that "dazzlingly singular movies aren't often this much fun" in his review, and Owen Gleiberman, writing for Entertainment Weekly, called it "the most excitingly original movie of the year."
John Malkovich's performance as himself in Being John Malkovich is ranked No. 90 on Premiere Magazine's '100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time'.
Connection to Get Out
Main article: Get Out
Following the financial and critical success of the 2017 film Get Out, varying fan theories arose delving into the social horror themes of the film. In December of that year, the film's writer/director/producer Jordan Peele had an interview with Vanity Fair in which he discussed the major fan theories surrounding the film, confirming which of the most popular were true and false. Peele stated that he and Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze had discussed the theory that Get Out was a secret stand-alone sequel to Being John Malkovich, and, although admitting that Get Out was never conceived as a sequel to Being John Malkovich or thought of as such until after the film was released, Peele stated that since hearing the theory both himself and Jonze viewed the connection as both films being set in the same continuity, saying that "as far as I’m concerned, it’s true".
The theory states that Catherine Keener’s "Maxine" in Being John Malkovich is the same character as "Missy" in Get Out; Being John Malkovich concludes with Maxine and Lotte raising a child fathered by John Malkovich, but unbeknownst to them, the spirit of Craig was trapped inside the child’s mind. With the portal to Malkovich's mind officially closed, they sought out other avenues for mind-transplant experimentation, eventually coming across Roman Armitage (Richard Herd), a neurosurgeon. Lotte entered the body of Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), Roman's son, and Emily, combined with the spirit of Craig, living in his own "Sunken Place", grows up to become the malevolent sociopath that is Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), all completely complicit in the scheme. Regarding his video about the theory in the January 2018 issue of Empire, Peele expressed interest in casting John Malkovich in a Get Out sequel, stating that it would be "cool" to "do the full trilogy".
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- ^Empire January 2018 Edition
Jordan Peele – The Breakthrough