Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich is the kind of movie that’s somehow both timeless and grounded in the period in which it was made. When it comes to the focus of the movie, it’s so late-’90s/early-’00s: the absurd, existentialist angst of a puppeteer who works on a half-floor at his dead-end job, only to discover a portal into a well-known actor’s mind, and then fulfills his dreams of total control. Not to mention the lighting, costumes, and complete lack of Internet. And yet, the notion of inhabiting a celebrity’s body has grown even more alluring with the explosion of social media—the kind of prescience for which Splitsider praises the movie.
Charlie Kaufmann wrote the screenplay for Malkovich specifically. Even when he was offered the chance—including by Malkovich himself—to fund the movie with a different lead, he stuck tight to this idea. Interestingly, he couldn’t even really explain why at the time:
It’s hard to explain, but I thought it was funny, but not jokey. Because [John Malkovich] is a serious actor, he is a great actor, but there is something odd about him and there is something behind his eyes that you can’t see. And I thought that was a good person for this.
Splitsider interprets this as Malkovich being so vague that the movie’s characters don’t even actually care about details of his life. They just care that he’s someone else.
If you were to remake Being John Malkovich today with another celebrity’s name in the title, you wouldn’t be able to rely on that same vagueness. We now have access to all the disgusting trivialities of a star’s life so that there’s little to no mystery... and we still want in. That existentialist drive still exists, and it’s gotten even more meta.
[Is there a modern-day actor who can keep up with this kind of role?]