Being John Malkovich (1999) (R)

I had seen "Being John Malkovich" before. I promise you, I had. This isn't just some lame excuse to seem more posh and pretentious as a wannabe critic. No, assuredly from my lips (or finger tips as the case may demand) to your ears (or eyes in this case...I'm using a metaphor, give me a break)—I speak the truth. I'm not sure if I feel bad for myself or just enlightened that I realize, after a second viewing, that I completely did not understand the ending of "Being John Malkovich" the first time around. The pondering that the movie allows the viewer to do for themselves...yeah that thing, I wasn't doing that and so I didn't comprehend an ending that shouldn't be that hard to comprehend. I'd like to blame the complexity, but that's just a scapegoat.
"Being John Malkovich" was a movie that I was happy with the first time and wasn't blown away like many other including the late Roger Ebert who named it the best film of 1999, above "American Beauty". The second time around, I did like it better but I stay firm with my first impression of the film—really good, maybe not a masterpiece.
"Being John Malkovich" is Charlie Kaufman's most mature work—not his best, but his most well developed. The plot of the movie is the most understandable of any Kaufman movie I've seen and the action and mind-bending sequences are the least psychedelic.
The simple goofiness of the movie is something that I missed out on the first time I saw the film. I tend to be more empathetic with characters and so don't like to see "comedies" that get their jokes with awkward humor, putting the main character down. "Being John Malkovich" doesn't do this, but it does have a protagonist that is flawed and upset, very upset with life.
Craig Schwartz (played by an almost tolerable John Cusack) is a failing puppeteer, not because he's bad at his craft but because....he's a puppeteer. This ain't engineering, the economy isn't in that big of a rush to hire puppeteers.
To Craig, his puppets are much more than playthings of disturbed individuals like so many people he comes across think. The idea of puppetry is also the underlying theme behind the movie itself: what is it like to become someone else?
Try putting on someone else's skin and walk around as them for a while and see how everything goes...wouldn't that be nice?—it's also plausible if we are to believe Charlie Kaufman.
Realists and pragmatists be forewarned, this is not a movie for you.
Kaufman stretches his limit and comes up with a boldly original idea whose execution is actually somewhat frightening.
Craig's wife, Lotte, is a veterinarian of sorts. She takes in animals and gives them her home which makes Craig's life a little complicated. Imagine trying to maneuver through a kitchen which has you, your wife, a chimp that needs psychotherapy, a dog, and a parrot that won't shut up stuffed into the cramped quarters—chaos, to say the least.
Maybe this is what "Being John Malkovich" is all about, bringing order to the confusion. Craig gets a job as a filing secretary at a company located on the seven and a half floor of a building. Everyone has to walk around with hunched backs and there's a secretary there who mishears everyone.
It's confusion, but in this confusion there is a small, dark way out. Craig discovers a even smaller door behind a cabinet one day and he is whisked away into madness which is actually cohesion.
There has to be a thousand different ways of analyzing "Being John Malkovich", one thing is for certain: with this movie, where Kaufman first introduced himself to the mainstream world, Kaufman is placing himself at the top of a list of screenwriters. He is always original and never disappoints to bend your mind a little, if not a lot.
Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, and Mr. Malkovich himself round out the rest of the cast and outshine Cusack in every way. If this movie had had a better lead and a few things tweaked it might have been perfect, but because it didn't it falls just short of the mark for me.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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