Being John Malkovich--still relevant 6 years later?

The critics positively adored this when it came out.

I enjoyed it when I saw it in the theater (and haven’t seen it since), but very soon thereafter felt it to be “empty calories.” Pretty much a movie that three-quarters wowed me but which I never thought about again.

And, though the critics loved it, it just doesn’t seem to be a movie that “matters” now. I see people discuss a lot of movies in Cafe here, but this one doesn’t seem to come up, either as something that made waves at the time or as something that people currently enjoy (compare with the Star Wars flicks, Verhoeven flicks, etc.).

One reason why I think the movie was somewhat of a flash in the pan is that people thought it was “original” when it wasn’t. Oh, it was socially original: the idea that Malkovich, a big star, would participate in this “weird” movie that doesn’t take his persona very seriously was certainly quaint.

But were the sci-fi or surreal ideas of the film themselves original? Not at all. At the same time, the whole cult storyline seems a copout–instead of doing something really new with the ideas, ooh it’s a cult. And cults aren’t funny. Not really.

What do you think?

I’m not sure people ever really thought of “Being John Malkovich” as being relevant to anything. (Is it supposed to have had some deep political/social/cultural relevance that I’m missing??) I think it was liked by critics and audiences for the very good and simple reason that it was a very good (but not simple!) movie. Maybe it doesn’t come up all that often because it has been overshadowed by even greater works by Charlie Kaufman, namely “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

“Relevant” is a very odd word to describe a movie. I can think of no reason why a movie should be relevant, nor can I imagine why relevance is a trait that makes any sense in the context of a movie, or any art for that matter. Things should be judged on their own merit. If you didn’t think Being John Malkovich was great, then fine, say that. Don’t make up weird excuses for your preferences like “relevant.”

Choose an adjective that pleases you: How about “important”?

I’m sure John Malkovich still finds it relevant to be John Malkovich, but the movie itself wasn’t so politically or socially topical that relevence is… relevant.
That Catherine Keener is damn hot, though, more so than Cameron Diaz, I thought. I loved her in Death to Smoochy. If you want to debate the relevance of that, seeing as it has a premise somewhat more grounded in reality than Being John Malkovich, let’s go.

Of course, you’d have to be one of the 50 or so people who saw it.

The movie was never relevant or important, and it never tried to be. It was uniquely warped, and that was what made it terrific. That and the “Malkovich Malkovich” scene, I guess.

This may be the most patently false thing I have ever read.

Huh. So, in short, you have nothing relevant to add.

I’ll share my personal take on this, it’ll be interesting to see if anyone feels the same way.

I think part of it may be that the movie looks like crap on a small screen.
I saw this movie multiple times in the theater, and loved it each time. But each time I’ve tried to watch it on DVD, I just can’t get through it. It’s just so murky. Everything is so darkly lit, the colors are bland and lack contrast, and everything in each setting is so cluttered.

Now, yeah, I know there was a point to this and I agree it really matches the mood of the film and reflects the personalities and psychoses of the characters. On a bigger screen it’s not a problem, but when I watch it on a T.V. it just hurts my eyes and has at times nearly put me to sleep.

So, I’m definitely in the category “loved it when it first came out, but feel no desire to watch it now”, but for different reasons than the OP.

I only ever watched it on TV, not a big one at that, and I loved it; as did the rents, who watched it with me.

Now that you mention it, though, I’ll have to rent it again and watch it on the rents’ hi-def monster.

I rented this movie a few months ago from Netflix. I didn’t care for it at all. I guess I should just come right out and say it -

In my opinion, the reason you don’t hear people talking about it much is because it just wasn’t a very good movie. (Well, that and very few people even saw it.) It was interesting in some ways, and I have to give props to any movie that at least tries to be different from the normal slop at the box office. But with the exception of two scenes* the movie either bored me or made me roll my eyes.

If anyone can explain to me the appeal of the movie, please do so. I promise I will try to keep an open mind.

  • The cheesy 70’s employee video, and Malkovich in Malkovich

My humble opinion is that anyone out of high school who thinks that movies “matter” - or that rock music “matters” or comic books “matter” - desperately needs to get a new life.

And I only saw “Being John Malcovich” once, when it first came out. It may or may not hold up as a film. But at the time I thought it was a fascinating example of movie science fiction.

That’s right: science fiction. Science fiction is not about spaceships, no matter what you hear or what crap you read or see. Science fiction is about ideas.

As an idea movie, BJM is like Eternal Sunshine in the exploration of identity, but better. Philip Dick does this all the time and is lauded for it, but Kaufman is much subtler and therefore more interesting. He uses consciousness - inner space, if you will - as a frontier to be explored, encountering perils and with the danger of getting lost. It’s a counterpart to The Truman Show, the best sf movie of the last decade, which of course also explores this theme. As do other good sf films: Dark City; Primer. Maybe even the abomination that was Matrix could have been saved if it had stuck to that original theme rather than trying to get deep and pretentious.

BJM wasn’t the best movie ever made or anything. It was original, though, in its exploration of a universal theme, but that originality had nothing to do with it starring a real star. It was all in the writing. For me, that’s a big deal, and enough to make a movie worthy.

I’m mostly with you, xap, but not all the way. I certainly have friends in college who would insist that movie X or book Y was ‘important’ when I thought they were being overly dramatic and inflating importance.

But there are occasional works of art that alter the social or political landscape. They are, of necessity, scarce beyond words, but they exist. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and
The Jungle and two examples that leap to mind.

And lest one think those are ‘literature’ and therefore exempt from not being ‘important’ I would argue that you’re wrong. While I realize that Xap only mentioned movies, comic books, and rock music I would argue that it applies to most art. Outside a small cohort of the interested most art has little to no impact at all and therefore is unimportant in any real sense of the word.

I simply found it to be a very clever and unique diversion, and I don’t think it aspired to much more. Critics always load reviews of art flicks with flatulent postmodern theses declaring the import of some-or-other thematic element, but so what? That’s their masturbatory preoccupation, it needn’t be taken seriously by an audience. Relevance? Importance? For a flight of whimsy like this? People with lives and brains need to smoke a lot of weed to join in this conversation, I’m afraid. I’m happy to say I was entertained when I saw it, and leave it at that.

A movie called Doing Catherine Keener would be EXTREMELY relevant to me. :cool:

Interesting the reaction to the word “relevant.”

Some films rise to the level of art; the vast, vast majority don’t. And the fewer pretensions they have, the greater the chance that they’ll rise, IMO (i.e., the less arty the better).

So no, I don’t worry about the “relevance” or “importance” of films on a regular basis. What I meant in the title, really, is how the film is doing in terms of mindshare out there these days. There are fans and enjoyers of older entertainments out there, but I feel that, despite the hoo-haw when this movie came out, people don’t seem to be into it anymore, nor is it held up as a “great film of the decade” or whatever by critics.

That’s what I was getting at.

Are you just saying that for movies, rock music, and comic books, or are you saying that for all the art forms?

Art “matters” in a rather narrow way – good art entertains and makes use see things in new ways. But if you mean it has the power to change the world – alas, the days of an Uncle Tom’s Cabin are way past. Even movies that tried to do something – Bowling for Columbine or And Inconvenient Truth – don’t succeed simply because society is so fragmented (and the fragments only see things that uphold their worldview).

Being John Malkovich was never considered an “important” film – it was considered a very cleverly plotted one. The idea – while not new – had been used rarely in films, and Kaufman’s permutations of it were clever, well-conceived, and surprising.

Yeah, that’s the crux of it. I enjoyed it for being totally unpredictable–from “the 7-1/2th floor” on, you just never knew where it was going to turn next, and some of the deadpan responses to totally absurd situations, like the 50’ tall marionette of Emily Dickenson (“Gimmicky bastard,”) or the orientation film.

There are a few universal themes in the movie–peoples’ desire to be someone else, celebrity worship of flawed human beings, the conflict between love and control, the absurd conditions and behavior we accept as part of our jobs, et cetera–but the movie isn’t really “about” any of that, at least not in the manner that sophomore film students like to cleanly deconstruct films; it’s about this portal behind a filing cabinet on the 7-1/2 floor of the Merton-Flemmer Building which takes you inside John Malkovich for 15 minutes and then dumps you on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. Man, if you can’t come up with a few of hours of ultimately irresolvable post-viewing coffeehouse discussion from that, you need to stick to “message” films from Steven Spielberg which lay it all out for you point by point.

Charlie Kaufman (the screenwriter) makes “personal” films, i.e. on topics that wander through his mind on regular basis…the same kind of thing Woody Allen would do if he actually had the talent to make flms a tenth as interesting. (We’ll give Match Point and the crimes part of Crimes and Misdomeanors a pass.) That there’s no neatly wrapped solution/moral/message to the movie is part of the charm, and the second Kaufman/Jonze collaboration (Adaptation) went to great lengths to poke fun of the whole notion, as well as lampooning Kaufman himself as the “great screenwriter” who eventually resorts to emulating his Robert McKee-trained fictional twin brother into writing a story with a redeeming message and “wow[ing] them in the end” to get a hit.

Being John Malkovich’s ultimate contribution, I think, is the fact that such an anti-high concept, nearly unmarketable film could be made at all. Like Donnie Darko, it’s not only impossible to summarize this film in a single tagline, it may be impossible to explain it at all without completely reiterating it. It just…is. And is effing brilliant–and at least to me, utterly hilarious–for it.



I don’t mean to hijack, but I have to say I don’t agree with this at all. Far far far too soon to even begin to know about the importance or the ‘success’ of Being John Malkovich or Bowling for Columbine or An Inconvenient Truth. (Someone should start a new thread if further discussion is merited.)

Of course I meant a new thread for further discussion of RealityChuck’s general assertion about art in a fragmented society.

Not trying to stifle continued discussion of whether Being John Malkovich was any good or not…