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BEING (a simulacrum of) JOHN MALKOVICH

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Maverick Moore

on 5 December 2013

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Transcript of BEING (a simulacrum of) JOHN MALKOVICH

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH
(1999)
Directed by Spike Jonze
IDENTITY
-‘To be’ John Malkovich questions how identity is represented.
To be someone else is to inscribe the textual representation of one character into another, which suggests the presence of parody’s subversive and ironic agenda (Holmbach, 2006).

CELEBRITY
-Malkovich’s star-power is a celebrity is a driving force of the plot.
The characters use Malkovich’s assumed star-power to be and do what they want. Craig, Lotte, and Maxine use the Malkovich identity as a seduction tool and Craig later uses Malkovich to fulfill his ambitions as a puppeteer and to marry Maxine.

Craig jumps at the chance to make money from the Malkovich portal not simply because of the ability of control someone, but rather because of the ability to control Malkovich the celebrity actor.

SIMULATION
-
Being John Malkovich
is not about becoming the real John Malkovich, but rather a fictional identity of John Malkovich as defined by pop-culture.
We do not know him so we formulate our identification of John Malkovich based on what we know of him through the lens of pop culture and celebrity, in which the film may depict more or less an exaggeration. Recognition of the real John Malkovich becomes impossible because the real and original identity becomes replaced by imagination.

BEING (a simulacrum of) JOHN MALKOVICH
Struggling puppeteer Craig Schwartz finds a doorway portal to John Malkovich’s brain on the 7½ floor of Lestercorp with which he can see, smell, touch, and ultimately be Malkovich for 15 minutes before being spit out on the New Jersey Turnpike. Malkovich’s portal is then used for shameless self-promotion as the characters begin to use Malkovich’s celebrity identity to achieve their romantic desires and professional ambitions.
THEMES
IDENTITY
SIMULATION
CELEBRITY
-Fact vs. fiction
The film intends to be interpreted as the real Malkovich behaving within a fictional setting. Instead, Malkovich plays a parody of himself and we lose the ability to identify him because we do not know what to take seriously.

We get glimpses of Malkovich within a private sphere, and occasionally hear about his acting past, but should we take anything seriously? We do not know the real Malkovich personally. Ultimately, we are only able to identify him through pop-culture history and hearsay. Otherwise, the film could lead us to assume that the real Malkovich actually enjoys toast and Chekhov.

-Fact vs. fiction
The film intends to be interpreted as the real Malkovich behaving within a fictional setting. Instead, Malkovich plays a parody of himself and we lose the ability to identify him because we do not know what to take seriously.

We get glimpses of Malkovich within a private sphere, and occasionally hear about his acting past, but should we take anything seriously? We do not know the real Malkovich personally. Ultimately, we are only able to identify him through pop-culture history and hearsay. Otherwise, the film could lead us to assume that the real Malkovich actually enjoys toast and Chekhov.

Identity crisis
Each of the characters in the film wish to be someone they are not and to do something they cannot and manifest such desires through the assumed celebrity power of the Malkovich identity.

Malkovich has several identities. He is Malkovich the real actor, Malkovich the character, Malkovich with Craig inside, Malkovich with Lotte inside, Malkovich with Maxine inside, so on and so forth. For example, Craig is represented through his behaviors and desires within Malkovich, but also under the star power of Malkovich. Representation is compromised.

When someone enters the Malkovich portal, we are given the elliptical point of view of Malkovich himself (as cued by the vignette and muffled internal noises).

-Malkovich’s cultural texts as a celebrity are also parodied
Malkovich reads Shakespeare and Chekhov. He is also a close friend with Charlie Sheen. However, people can’t seem to remember what exactly he has acted in.

Craig Schwartz: There's a tiny door in my office, Maxine. It's a portal and it takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes... and then after about 15 minutes, you're spit out... into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Maxine: Sounds great! Who the fuck is John Malkovich?

Craig Schwartz: Oh, he's an actor. He's one of the great American actors of the 20th century.

Maxine: Oh yeah? What's he been in?

Craig Schwartz: Lots of things. That jewel thief movie, for example. He's very well respected. Anyway, the point is...

-This aspect of the film also contradicts the act of identifying Malkovich’s celebrity text.
There is no direct mention of any specific productions Malkovich has been involved in. The details of any factual past are presented in equal measure to the fictional elements

A documentary within the film covers Malkovich’s rise to fame as a puppeteer (as Craig has been controlling him for months). Brief inserts of Malkovich’s acting past are provided, but without any detail. They are also juxtaposed with Sean Penn raving about Malkovich’s rise to puppeteering.

Viewers unfamiliar with Malkovich’s celebrity identity could misinterpret the character as one that is not intertextual and thus made purely of fiction.

INTERTEXTUALITY
-Borrowing one character from one text and inserting it into another either by adapting one fictional character from one novel to another or by adding a real-life person into a fictional text (Holmbach, 2006).
Examples:
Christopher Walken in
Weapon of Choice
Charlie Kaufman in
Adaptation
John Malkovich in
Being John Malkovich

-The intertextual recognition of pop culture icons and their already established significance is key to these films’ effects.
In
Being John Malkovich
, if you are unfamiliar with the actor John Malkovich, the film will not work as intended and will be read in a completely different way.

Unfamiliar viewers would interpret the Malkovich identity as a fictional entity that existed only within the realm of the narrative. Viewers familiar with the intertextual context know that Malkovich is indeed an actor and a living-breathing human that plays “himself” in the film.

For example, viewers familiar with the Malkovich intertext will be able to interpret the documentary as intended and separate fact from fiction. Viewers unfamiliar with Malkovich’s celebrity identity could misinterpret it as entirely fictitious, like the recreated televised events within
Forrest Gump
(1994).

-Baudrillard’s theory of simulations (1981) applies to the Malkovich identity.
“There is no longer any distinction between reality and its representation; there is only the simulacrum” (Baudrillard, 1981).

A representation reflects something of reality, whereas simulations are imaginary and have no secure reference to reality. Simulations have no connections to the references of images, signs, and reality that representations utilize. Simulations thus create a hyperreality in which nature and artifice become indistinguishable. At this stage, reality collapses and is replaced by simulacra; copies with no identifiable original.

Baudrillard (1981) explains that identities are formed through the application of images, codes, and models and that this process of simulation informs individuals how to perceive themselves and relate to others as well as how to function in economics, politics, and culture.

-Thus, familiar with the intertext or not, the Malkovich identity becomes fictitious.
In the case of
Being John Malkovich
, the John Malkovich character replaces that of the real and creates a simulacrum of John Malkovich. The film’s fictional and parodic presentation of the Malkovich identity establishes him as a product of the hyperreal. Despite the film giving Malkovich a different middle name, both John Gavin Malkovich (the real) and John Horatio Malkovich (the character) become one simulacrum of John Malkovich.

Everything the film depicts of Malkovich, any apparent fact or fiction, reflects the simulacrum. The glimpses of private life, hints at personality, lifestyle, circle of friends, mannerisms, and celebrity power all belong to the simulacrum. Who knows - maybe Malkovich actually hates Chekhov.
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