Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich, 1999.


Norman N. Holland

    Eloise and Abelard embody the key to the film, desire (really quite literally in Craig’s puppetry). The two wooden figures enact an almost masturbatory bodily expression of desire, one that earns Craig a fat lip from the angry father of the little girl watching.

    Emily Dickinson is, it seems to me, par excellence the artist who is herself regardless of the estimation of others. And she speaks the appropriate lines about fame and the irrelevancy of fame in this film:

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

It’s a bit like Malkovich’s face and name everywhere in the “Fregoli scene. ”

    The 7½th floor--a real puzzle. Aside from demonstrating the makers’ ingenuity, why is it there? It certainly signals our move from a realistic movie into a surreal one. More than that, though, it suggests to me the irrelevance of environment in changing selves: Maxine, Floris, Craig, and Dr. Lester all remain themselves despite their preposterous workplace.

    Why the New Jersey Turnpike? I know it well, alas, and I think it is the most anonymous and dispiriting of highways, a total letdown from the fantastic experience of “being John Malkovich.”

    Why Björk’s, “Amphibian”? Aside from Spike Jonze’s having made his name and fame with music videos of, among others, Björk, “Amphibian” suggests an organism that lives in two environments. As we humans do, in ourselves, but also (in this movie) inside others. Then, too, the lyrics to “Amphibian” are either Icelandic or nonsense words, rather like Craig’s cleverly guessing Maxine’s name. (Does he get it by reading her reaction to his nonsense syllables? Getting inside her head?) Or possibly the unintelligible words are the makers’ final facetious verdict on their own movie.