Identity Crisis in Being John Malkovich

It takes only a few minutes of viewing Being John Malkovich to observe that Spike Jonze’s filmmaking has a clear aesthetic quality. His use of the camera in terms of varying perspective works diligently to highlight the concepts of liminality and simulacra within a metaphysical context. The question, “who are we?” becomes progressively relevant throughout the film. Through the variation in camera perspective Jonze provokes the audience to continually engage with the film as we are invited to witness the action occurring inside Malkovich’s body.

In this context, liminality is experienced in three layers simultaneously: The audience; they are anonymous spectators to the action occurring, they have no status and are free to experience anything the camera perspective provokes. Malkovich; he becomes a physical vessel for other minds and the desires they carry which compromises his own thoughts and physical actions. The various people that enter him; they encounter a transition of identity, although their mind is inside Malkovich they do not have total control over Malkovich’s body and they have abandoned their own bodies, leaving them as vacant vessels until their minds return. Now, it seems that identity triumphs over the liminal during Craig Schwartz’s final experience in Malkovich. However, although Craig has seemingly succeeded in securing Malkovich’s identity he is a simulation of the original man. This film frames a very specific set of relationships in a larger context, highlighting our societal progression of illusion and the underlying desire for indexicality.
Natalie Schneck