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In the movie Being John Malkovich Charlie Kaufman uses puppetry as a metaphor for not being in control of your life. Discuss how he does this with close reference to the film
Charlie Kaufman uses puppetry as a metaphor for not being in control of your own life in many characters. Craig first uses physical puppetry to act out events that would not happen in real life, thus regaining control of his life. He later uses Malkovich as his puppet, although this does not help him gain control, it makes it worse. Kaufman demonstrates many layers of puppetry, showing how people can be controlled by other people, making them puppets.
Craig uses puppetry as an attempt to regain control of his life. Craig is in love with Maxine, but she is not romantically interested in him.
Craig: I like you, I don’t know what it is exactly
Maxine: My tits?
Craig: No, no, it’s like your energy or your attitude or the way you carry yourself or…”
Maxine: Christ you’re not a fag are you?
(Kaufman, page 27)
He creates a puppet in absolute likeness of Maxine, and acts out his fantasises with the puppets of him and her, making them kiss and have a passionate conversation.
Craig as Maxine: Would you like to be inside my skin Craig? Think what I think? Feel what I feel?
Craig as Craig: More than anything Maxine
Craig as Maxine: It’s good in here Craig, better than your wildest dreams
(Kaufman, page 30-31)
This shows that because Craig cannot control the situation involving himself and Maxine in real life, he controls it by using puppets. He uses puppets to embody himself and Maxine and achieve what he desires.
At the beginning of the movie Craig remarks that “The great Mantini doesn’t need a job” (Kaufman, page 2) in response to Lotte asking him why he won’t get a job. Craig is desperate to be a famous puppeteer, like Mantini, but in his own life he cannot achieve or control this. He uses Malkovich to become famous, embodying him and using his fame to his own advantage.
Craig: It’s sort of like being a puppeteer. I like that about it.
Maxine: No one would ever have to know it’s not him.
Craig: And I could use his existing notoriety to launch my own puppeteering career!
(Kaufman, page 88)
Put simply, Craig uses puppetry to control his career life by using Malkovich as his own puppet. In the end this doesn’t work and Craig’s life becomes even more out of his control. He loses Lotte and Maxine and becomes extremely unhappy. The final scene of the movie is Craig being inside Lotte and Maxine’s daughter Emily. He repeatedly says “look away, look away, look away” because he doesn’t want to see how in control and happy Maxine and Lotte are, compared to his out of control existence. This leads on to another layer of puppetry, people controlling people.
Kaufman cleverly uses many layers of puppetry as means of control. Many characters in the film are being controlled by others. Most obvious is Malkovich, everyone manipulates him. Maxine and Craig are using him as a cash cow, and everyone who ventures through the portal is using him as a puppet.
Maxine: Good we’ll sell tickets
Craig: Tickets to Malkovich?
Maxine: Sure, two hundred dollars a pop
(Kaufman, page 36-37)
Although Craig is the only one that is able to control Malkovich’s actions and words, everyone who inhabits him is using him as a puppet. The people who use Malkovich in this way do so as means of controlling their lives. They are unhappy with their own lives and are attempting to improve it by ‘being someone else’.
Maxine: You can be John Malkovich
Erroll: That’s perfect! My second choice. Ah this is wonderful. Too good to be true! You see I’m a sad man. Sad and fat and alone.
(Kaufman, page 54)
This demonstrates that the people inhabiting Malkovich are attempting to regain control of their lives through puppetry. They do this because they are vulnerable and
Maxine manipulates them through this.
Maxine controls many characters in the film. She regularly controls Craig, even though she doesn’t try hard to do it. Craig and Lotte are both in love with Maxine, they are being puppeteered by their feelings for her. When they both realise this they begin to fight and this results in Craig locking Lotte in a cage. Lotte screams “Help! He’s locking me in a cage!” (Kaufman, page 63) because Craig locks her in Elijah’s cage so that he can see Maxine. This would never have happened if Maxine hadn’t been controlling Lotte and Craig.
Craig: That’s true. Oh God Lotte what have I become? My wife in a cage with a monkey. A gun in my hand. Betrayal in my heart.
(Kaufman, page 77)
Puppetry also exists on a larger scale in this movie. Many characters in this movie feel that their lives are not in their control, but by whose standards is this? Society dictates that people must have jobs, happy relationships and success. Yet in this movie, no-one seems to have any of these. No-one knows who Malkovich is, although he is supposed to be a famous actor.
Cabbie: Say arn’t you that actor guy?
Cabbie: John Makel .. Mapplethorpe?
(Kaufman, page 33)
This shows that even though society wants to be rich and famous, people don’t even recognise you on the street. Craig and Lotte have a bad relationship and both fall in love with Maxine. This is in direct contrast with society’s views on having a good relationship.
Lotte: Some sort of childhood trauma she thinks
(Kaufman, page 17)
The characters in the movie are not being puppeteered by society’s standards, although they should be. They are being puppeteered by each other.
In the movie Being John Malkovich, puppetry is a strong element and the characters use it for their own personal reasons. Craig uses puppetry because he feels his life is out of control and he is trying to regain that control, in the end this is unsuccessful and his life is more out of control than it was at the beginning. Maxine uses puppetry indirectly, controlling Craig for her own gain. And of course, everyone uses Malkovich as a puppet, the public because they are vulnerable and want to control their lives and therefore (in their minds) improve it. Whatever the reasons for the characters using puppetry as a means of gaining control, it is obvious that Kaufman cleverly uses puppetry as a metaphor for not being in control of your own life.
Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman, 1999, New York imdb Being John Malkovich (Online) Available: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120601/ Accessed 23-08-2009
Psychoanalysis, film theory and the case of being John Malkovich, D Dragunoiu, (Online) Available: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3076/is_2_26/ai_n28890509/ Accessed 24-08-2009
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