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Being John Malkovich
Endless riches, untouchable fame, authority that would never dare be challenged. Isn’t that the goal? To live in a world where one can walk out of their beach house into their new Lamborghini knowing they don’t have a worry in the world simply because they have those material goods. Most see it as so and as a result the world is a never ending cycle of people trying to climb the ladder that just keeps growing. The reality is the majority of people will never be able to call home a beach house or their car a Lamborghini, but that doesn’t stop the hunt to rise to the top. Charlie Kaufman explores this concept in his book Being John Malkovich. He presents us with characters all over the societal pyramid and shows the journey to find a way to screech up it against all odds. Many wonder what it would be like to be someone else. Maybe their problems aren’t as bad as your own. Or maybe they know the feeling of success like the back of their hand when you can’t seem to keep a job. When the characters in the plot get the opportunity to be someone else, it is all they could have ever dreamed. They became the person they always wanted to be, but never could be. Simply by going into the mind of a successful man, they have upped their value and are no longer viewed as worthless which is the label the lower class has thrust upon them. Being John Malkovich demonstrates by looking through an ideological and economical lens, that the churning mill known as society forces everyone to increase their status at all costs to get what they want. This is shown through Craig and Lotte’s desperate attempts to get inside of the famous John Malkovich for the soul reason of being looked at as a prominent figure for the first time in their lives. Along with this the reader sees Lester’s relentless hunt to maintain immortality by leaping from vessel to vessel.
Not a day goes by where one turns on the news and isn’t bombarded with constant updates of a celebrity. How is it that the worship of these people is so prevalent in society? At the end of the day they are just people. However, they are looked at as god-like figures with an impeccable status. Craig Schwartz is a man who wouldn’t be given a second glance when passing him on the street. That is unless one turned to look at him in disgust over his below average looks or his absurd interest in puppetry. These are just a few of the many reasons he is at the bottom of society. A glimpse into the life of Craig would be one battling on the line of poverty, fighting with unemployment and at odds about how to find something worth living for. Fast forward until Craig takes a glimpse into the life of John Malkovich and everything changes. As he is sucked into the portal he is metaphorically sucked into a life of riches and popularity. He becomes the same type of A-list celebrity that society loves to worship. The reason may not be known but it comes back to the basis of status. “The character of Craig Schwartz can be scary in an odd sort of way. He is scary because he is something that none of us want to become . . . a pathetic loser with no respect. The only respect he can get is when he is in Malkovich. In this sense, Craig Schwartz can only be someone when he is someone else” (Philosophical Implications). When in his own body, he is a poor puppeteer who can not land a job to save his life nor can he win over the affection of Maxine who he has loved ever since his first day one the seventh and a half floor at LesterCorp. It is so evident how things change when he is in the body of John Malkovich as he has supreme authority. He has the power to change his acting career to a career into Craig’s personal love of puppetry. Maxine seems mesmerized by him and he is the person he has always wanted to become. Everything in his wildest dreams became a reality as he miraculously climbed the social ladder in minutes through entering someone with much more prestige. As hardships hit and the possibility of a return into his original body come to light, it is apparent that he knows how badly his life will be ruined upon his departure from Malkovich. “I can’t do that. If I leave Malkovich, I’m Craig Schwartz again. I have no career, no money. Maxine would no longer have anything to do with me” (99). This shows the very point that social status drives society through wealth and perceived authority. One moment anything is possible and the next life becomes a black hole of nothingness for Craig Schwartz.
To be looked at by the world with respect is something people dedicate their entire lives to. It can be an endless journey that may never be accomplished. The most genuine, kind-hearted individual may never feel as if they are wanted because they are viewed as a lesser person in society. Lotte Schwartz feels as if she has never been looked at by someone who truly, passionately cares about her. Her own husband barely gives her the time of day as he is caught up with his puppets or off trying to woo another woman in Maxine. As a result, Lotte takes a nurturing role taking care of animals as they are the only beings to give her respect. Similar to Craig’s experience with the Malkovich vessel, as soon as Lotte ventures into it her entire life changes. She feels like she has control of her life and is looked at with respect and dignity for the first time. Lotte is no longer a run of the muck house wife with no future, but instead a powerful upper-class man who leads a lavish life style. “I have to go back Craig. Being inside did something to me. All of a sudden everything made sense. I knew who I was” (40). This demonstrates Lotte has found a purpose in life but more specifically infers who she wants to be in life. She has never had to money or the status to be looked at the way Malkovich is. However, when she is in his head she feels what it is like and that is enough to make her want to clamp on for as long as possible. Lotte sees the way Maxine looks at her through Malkovich’s eyes and loves the feeling of feeling loved. Never had she felt that type of affection from anyone, let alone her own husband. That saddening reality is that Maxine even admits to only loving Lotte when she is in Malkovich’s body. If she had possessed the riches or social class needed to be respected, her entire life may have been different. “According to Marxists, and to other scholars in fact, literature reflects those social institutions out of which it emerges and is itself a social institution with a particular ideological function. Literature reflects class struggle and materialism: think how often the quest for wealth traditionally defines characters” (Marxism). This puts into perspective how societal class drives a person to do the things that they do and in the end can even determine someone’s happiness as was the case with Lotte.
Nothing is valued more than life. The reason being is no price tag can be placed on it. People spend millions upon millions of dollars trying to prolong life whether that be through cancer research or other countless illnesses that take our greatest treasure away from it. Now if someone were to find a miraculous way to ensure immortality, they would be at the top of humanity for as long as they wished. For Dr. Lester, this is the reality he has been living in his whole life. Except the only thing is it isn’t “his” original life, but more specifically his soul hopping from one body to another when the time is right. He has discovered a way to make his mark on society by never leaving society in the first place. That is without doubt the most concrete way to mark one’s supremacy. Lester starts out as a man that could be laughed off as he comes off as a bit quirky. However, as the plot progresses the reader sees his true strength as he relentlessly attempts to keep his life going by transporting himself into John Malkovich. He refuses to take his last breath like a normal person and that is how he sees fit to stay in the upper class of society. “For the rest of life. Then we’ll all move on to the next vessel. It’s a great adventure” (86). The determination Lester shows to keep the very adventure alive proves he knows the exquisite life he has and will continue it in grand fashion. His only concern is that a regular lifespan does not give adequate time to do so and he has solved that problem. Lester has removed life’s greatest fear hence making him invaluable to society. “At first, he took up the Marxist idea that science is a part or moment of the transformative economic praxis of material production, enabling the “species being” Man to transform the material context in which he survives and flourishes” (Critical Theory). This exact thought exemplifies the reasoning behind what Lester did. By creating an unlimited life, he enabled himself to create unlimited wealth, unlimited friends and unlimited possibilities. It goes far beyond what the average person can even dream of. Lester has been living the daring life by hopping into multiple people, and by continuing to do so in the body of John Malkovich, will make his life that much more pristine.
What a sad thought it is that children in our world today grow up in a world where unworthy celebrities are at society’s beckon call. Some may help the greater good, but more often than not, they are in that position for nothing besides their wealth or fame. For that very reason, people have been racing since the beginning of time to increase their status no matter how high the stakes are and no matter what they have to lose. Charlie Kaufman fully exposes this societal flaw in Being John Malkovich as characters like Craig, Lotte and Lester put their literal life on the line in hopes of becoming someone else. While their specific reasons may vary, it comes down to wanting a better life and they feel as if they are being held back by who they are. A higher status is needed in the world to get one where they want to go and they found that in John Malkovich. Risking everything, it was a race against time to take over a man’s head with the hopeless idea of wanting more. Fame, fortune, power and the hunt for it all leads to the corruption of morals. It leads to the question of if society can truly function with those being the motivating factors that keeps it running day in and day out.
Blake, Nigel and Jan Masschelein. “Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy.” The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education. Blake, Nigel, Paul Smeyers, Richard Smith and Paul Standish (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2002. Blackwell Reference Online. 06 December 2015
“Marxist Criticism.” Marxist Criticism. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2015.
“Philosophical Implications of “Being John Malkovich”. “Popgun Chao. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2015.
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