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Being John Malkovich: A Psychological and Philosophical Inquiry

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Chad Walker

on 22 April 2013

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Transcript of Being John Malkovich: A Psychological and Philosophical Inquiry

Being John Malkovich: A Psychological and Philosophical Inquiry My Starting Point Being John Malkovich is an interesting, albeit wacky, movie that contains several psychological and philosophical ideas. What are some of these ideas, and how does each character play a role in demonstrating the psychological and philosophical aspects in this film? Let's find out! Combining Concepts I think that there are a couple things that society can gain from watching this movie:

1. There are some addictions that can be explained by repetitive compulsion and the pleasure principle. If something is pleasing to you, it is more than likely that you will do it. For example, alcoholics use drinking as a way to cope with pain. If they are successful in "drinking away their pain", they are more likely to continue drinking and become addicted to alcohol.

2. It is important to be the person that you want to be, no matter what the costs. Making decisions on your own is better than allowing society or others to make them for you. Society is a better place when people make their own, educated decisions rather than allowing others to make decisions for them. So How Does this Movie Relate to Us? The Psychological Side: Featuring Sigmund Freud Freud's model of the psyche consists of the ego, superego, and the id. A general trend I noticed in Being John Malkovic was that the id of several characters, specifically Craig Schwartz, determined their actions throughout the movie.

What is the id? The id lies in the unconscious portion of the mind, or as people commonly refer to it, on the bottom part of the iceberg (as seen in the next slide). Freud believed that the id houses the primitive or animalistic tendencies of humans. The unconscious contains thoughts and memories that people can't face; these thoughts and memories are hidden from our everyday consciousness so that we don't have to deal with the pain of thinking about them. What lies in Freud's id?? Freud believed in two concepts that helped control the id : the pleasure principle and the concept of libido. Pleasure Principle: Freud believed that the pleasure principle influenced the course taken by mental events and that the pleasure principle was employed by sexual instincts. (Freud, 1959)

Freud also believed that the pleasure principle reigned supreme in the id, that the id was strong enough to overwhelm the ego, and that human actions would be carried out in order to satisfy the need for pleasure. (Freud, 1957) Libido: The libido deals with the "energy of sexual instints directed towards an object", or the desire for sex. (Freud, 1959) How Can the Libido and Pleasure Principle Be Linked? There is a third idea, repetition compulsion, defined as the repetitiveness of human behavior and the inescapability of this repetitiveness. (Freud, 1959) So How do the Concepts Of Libido, the Pleasure Principle, and Repetition Compulsion Relate to Being John Malkovich? From the beginning of the movie to the end, Craig Schwartz has a strong desire for sex. At the beginning of the movie, he performed an Abelard and Heloise puppet show in front of a little girl in which the two puppets were having sex on opposite sides of the wall. Craig's libido is also seen when he takes control of Malkovich's body to have sex with Maxine. Where do the pleasure principle and repetitive compulsion come into this? Unfortunately for Craig, the only way for him to satisfy his libido is by having sex with Maxine. However, the only way he can get to Maxine is through Malkovich's body. In the movie, Craig occupies Malkovich for about eight months before leaving. Why did he occupy Malkovich for so long? Here's a diagram: The one way for Craig to have "pleasure" in his life is by having sex with Maxine and satisfying his libido. The only way for him to reach is goal is by being Malkovich. So in the beginning of the movie, Craig occupied Malkovich for fifteen minutes, had sex with Maxine, and satisfied his desire for sex and pleasure. This is where the concept of repetitive compulsion comes in. Since Craig experiences pleasure when he is with Maxine, his id will tell him to repeat the steps above. However, Craig is a puppeteer, and he discovers that he can control Malkovich's actions. In the movie, everyone is only able to remain in Malkovich for fifteen minutes, except Craig, who was able to stay in Malkovich for eight months. Instead of going through the trouble of traveling through the portal over and over, Craig was able to control Malkovich for eight months while fulfilling the needs of his libido and achieving pleasure. There's Philosophy In The Movie Too: The major philosophical concepts in Being John Malkovich were existentialism and self-actualization, which are similar in a way. Existentialism and Self-Actualization: Existentialism is the idea that a person is what they make themselves through the choices they make - that there is no such thing as destiny or predetermination. A person will become what they want to become through the choices that they make, not the circumstances that they find themselves in. It is the belief that a being is responsible for their own decisions, and that there is no reality except in action. A man is defined by his actions. (Satre 1956) Heidigger (1927) believed that a being could be or could not be itself; and that there was always a choice to be made. A person's existence was determined upon whether they seized or neglected possibilities. A person can choose to carry out a progressive or regressive action. (Maslow 1967) How did the choices that each person made in the movie define who they are? At the beginning of the movie, we have no idea who Craig, Lotte, or Maxine are. Who are they at the end of the movie? Who is Craig Schwartz? Craig Schwartz ends up being a loser because of the decisions he makes. The first mistake Craig Schwartz does is pity himself. At the beginning of the movie, he tells Elijah, his pet chimp, that "you don't know how lucky you are being a monkey, because consciousness is a terrible curse - I think, I feel, and I suffer." Craig pities himself because he has a crappy life: he is an unsuccessful puppeteer, he lives in a basement with his wife and various animals, and refuses to have kids with her because of the "economic situation", which he doesn't try to improve.

Schwartz's decision to realize his dreams in Malkovich's body also leads me to believe that he is a loser. He can't have the girl he wants in his own body, can't be a successful puppeteer in his own body, and can't even be a good husband to Lotte in his own body. To make a psychological connection, Schwartz is dominated by his id - and has no apparent morals or mechanisms to control his desires. More Schwartz, More Problems To get to Maxine, Craig ties us Lotte and throws her in a cage, continuing with the theme that he has no ability to control his id. Just when it seems like he is about to let Lotte out of the cage, his id takes over again and he threatens to kill Lotte and ties her back up and forces her to tell Maxine to meet with Malkovich - who will actually be Craig. This action is an animalistic action, so it makes sense that this is his id acting out because the id holds the primitive forces of life. The final decision that Craig makes that solidifies his standing as a "loser" is that he comes out of Malkovich to try to save Maxine from being killed, but realizes that he has been tricked and that Maxine and Lotte are in love. Maxine and Lotte kiss in front of Craig, who then says he will re-enter Malkovich's body in order to get Maxine's love back. However, he doesn't realize that the portal to Malkovich has been closed and ends up trapped inside Maxine and Lotte's baby for the next forty years without being able to exert any control over the child. Basically, Craig never makes any choices that make his existence worthwhile. All the decisions he makes while in Malkovich are out of self interest or greed. I thought that Spike Jonze, the director, made an interesting point by having Craig Schwartz get punched in the face twice: once in the beginning of the movie as himself and once at the end of the movie as Malkovich. This shows that even though Craig tried to find satisfaction in life and fulfill his libido's desires, he still ended up being a failure because he lost two people he loved : Lotte and Maxine. This agrees with the quote that "pleasure is a self-defeating principle"; the more someone strives for pleasure, the less likely they are to attain it. Who is Lotte Schwartz? Lotte is that one character whose decisions and personality surprise you, but at the end of the film she is the character who has had the most growth and comes to self-actualization and is proud of who she is. It was obvious that Lotte loves animals in the movie (she owns a dog, parrot, and chimp for example), but she is also married to an animal. At the beginning of the film, Lotte was in love with Craig - she asked him when they are going to have children. However, Craig shuns her, and it is apparent that they have no sexual relationship. While Lotte is in Malkovich, she claimed to feel sexy as a man, and immediately wanted to go back through the portal. Lotte tells Craig she was thinking about having an operation to become a transgender, but Craig became extremely upset and told her she couldn't even contemplate having the procedure.

When Maxine came over for dinner with Craig and Lotte, Maxine gives them a lecture about "those who go for what they want and those who don't go for what they want." At the end of her speech, Craig and Lotte both try to make out with Maxine. Maxine immediately throws Craig off of her and slaps him, but tells Lotte that she loves her - but only when she is John Malkovich. This is the beginning of Lotte's conversion to becoming a lesbian and being obsessed with Maxine. But there must have been some psychological events that made her turn towards Maxine, right? There are several reasons why Lotte might have fallen in love with Maxine. I think that the leading one is the way Craig treats her. Craig doesn't know the names of any of the pets they have, refuses to have children with her, and cheats on her. I think that Lotte is aware that she is married to a loser; her logic is probably along the lines of : if I can't get this guy to love me, I might as well try to get a girl to love me. Lotte's new passion becomes Maxine, however Maxine will only love Lotte when she is Malkovich. Once again, the pleasure principle, libido, and repetitive compulsion ideas from before are present: at first, Lotte was obsessed with being a man (Malkovich), but she ends up becoming obsessed with being Malkovich in order to carry out her relationship with Maxine. She goes into Malkovich as much as possible until Craig locks her up.

About that Self-Actualization Part:
Lotte is finally able to win Maxine at the end of the movie because Maxine's baby was conceived while Lotte was Malkovich, not while Craig was Malkovich. When Maxine tells Lotte she loves her, the two embrace and kiss. They are later seen with their child at a pool, and we can hear Craig trapped inside their daughter's mind - however Craig has no control over her. Lotte transforms from being unimportant in Craig's life to being a parent, which is what she wanted in the beginning of the movie. She realizes that she loved Maxine, and was able to live and raise "their" child together. Who is Maxine LUnd? Maxine is a temptress: Several quotes from Maxine back this idea up:
"If you even got me, you wouldn't have a clue what to do with me."
"You're my man on the inside."
"I dream of you." Craig calls out Maxine as well : "Why must you torture me? You're evil Maxine!" Two scenes in the movie show her capabilities as a temptress as well. The first one is the dinner scene in Craig and Lotte's apartment, in which she talks to them about people who go for what they want and people who don't go for what they want. She concludes by saying ,"Nobody cares about those who don't go for what they want." Immediately, Craig and Lotte both try to make out with Maxine. The other scene is after she tells Craig to stay in Malkovich's body forever because his puppetry is so amazing : they can live off of Malkovich's money and be happy together. But Maxine Changes, Too! Throughout the movie, it is difficult to tell what Maxine wants. She keeps a poker face, and it is difficult to tell whether she loves Lotte, Craig, Malkovich, having sex with Malkovich, or is just in it for the money. A turning point appears to be when she tells Craig to stay in Malkovich forever - it appears that she is in it for the money. Once Maxine realizes she is pregnant with Lotte's baby, I think she realizes that money and fame aren't important, and how much it would mean to Lotte if she knew the baby was hers. We see a change in Maxine - she stops talking to Malkovich (Craig), and even has a puppet of Lotte laying in her future baby's crib. When Maxine and Lotte are reunited inside Lestercorp, they go on a wild goose chase through Malkovich's subconscious in which Lotte tries to kill Maxine. At the end of the chase, they end up at the turnpike - with Maxine confessing to Lotte that Lotte is the child's "parent". Maxine and Lotte tell eachother they are in love with one another, and kiss each other in front of Craig. Through this, we see Maxine's evolution from a temptress to a person who is able to provide Lotte with the meaningful relationship that she never had. Thanks for Checking Out My Prezi!
Sources: Being John Malkovich BibliographyFrankl, V. (2008). The Will to Meaning. In M.W. Schustack & H.S. Friedman (Eds.), The Personality Reader (pp. 271-274). New York, NY: Pearson. (Original work published 1964)Freud, S. (1957) . The Ego and the Id. (J. Riviere, Trans.) . London: The Hogarth Press LTD. (Original work published in 1923)Freud, S. (1959) . Beyond the Pleasure Principle. J. Strachey (Ed.). (J. Strachey, Trans.) . New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (Original work published in 1920) Freud, S. (2008). The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis. In M.W. Schustack & H.S. Friedman (Eds.), The Personality Reader (pp. 1-5). New York, NY: Pearson. (Original work published 1912)Fromm, E. (2008). Love and Its Disintegration in Contemporary Western Society. In M.W. Schustack & H.S. Friedman (Eds.), The Personality Reader (pp. 250-254). New York, NY: Pearson. (Original work published 1956)Golin, S. , Landay, V. , Stern, S. , Stipe, M. (Producers), & Jonze, S. (Director). (1999). Being John Malkovich [Motion Picture]. United States: USA Films Heidegger, M. (2008). Being and Time. In D. F. Krell (Ed.), Basic Writings (pp. 38-87).New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Thought. (Original work published1927)Maslow, A. (2008). Self-Actualization and Beyond. In M.W. Schustack & H.S. Friedman (Eds.), The Personality Reader (pp. 255-262). New York, NY: Pearson. (Original work published 1967)Mischel, W. (2008). Continuity and Change in Personality. In M.W. Schustack & H.S. Friedman (Eds.), The Personality Reader (pp. 297-302). New York, NY: Pearson. (Original work published 1969)Rogers, C. (2008). What Understanding and Acceptance Mean to Me. In M.W. Schustack & H.S. Friedman (Eds.), The Personality Reader (pp. 241-249). New York, NY: Pearson. (Original work published 1995)Satre, J.P. (1956) . Existentialism is a Humanism (P. Mariet, Trans.) . Retrieved April 14,2013, from http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htmSmith, T. C. (2004, March 31) Happiness Is a Warm Portal. Metaphilm.com Retrieved April 14, 2013, from http://metaphilm.com/index.php/detail/being-john-malkovich-2/Zong, J.G. (2004 May 14). Identity, Mind, and Body in Being John Malkovich [Web log post]. Retrieved April 14, 2013, from http://www.jennifergong.com/portfolio/Gong_Expos2.html
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