Thinking Through Queer Identities in the Film Being John Malkovich Term Paper

Pages: 10 (3487 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Women's Issues - Sexuality

Film Being John Malkovich

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Sexuality must not be thought of as a kind of a natural given power which tries to hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries gradually to uncover. It is the name that can be given to a historical construct." (Foucault 1979:105 in Weeks: 16). Foucault's historical approach to sexuality gave rise to a series of questions regarding this notion, such as the connection between sexuality and power, its role in Western society, as well as how it is socially constructed (Ibid). These are precisely the questions that lie at the core of the 1999 film Being John Malkovich which tries to investigate how sexuality and gender roles determine identity, as well as how the former are shaped in modern society. Foucault explores the social role of sexuality in one of his famous books, the History of Sexuality. In this book he argues against the point-of-view that had been largely embraced in society, i.e. that sex was a freely-expressed part of life which raised no questions and posed no problems. Instead, he traces the history of discourses about sex, and argues that sex "was brought into the spotlight by Christianity in the seventeenth century" (Gauntlett: 124) when the Christian dogma decreed that all desires had to be expressed solely in the form of Christian confession. This moment in history has strong consequences, as the idea of desire became much stronger and gained importance. It is interesting to note here the existence of a link between the theory of Foucault regarding desire, and its connection to religion, and the way in which desire is incorporated in the movie Being John Malkovich.

Term Paper on Thinking Through Queer Identities in the Film Being John Malkovich Assignment

Desire is central to understanding both the plot itself, as well as its symbolism. The movie tackles the issue of displaced desire. Craig Schwartz and his wife Lotte are both smitten with Maxine, a beautiful and mysterious woman. Maxine is actually the one who comes up with the idea of using the portal into the mind of John Malkovich for financial gain. For Lotte and her husband, the portal is the realm where their attraction to Maxine can be concretized. By inhabiting Malkovich, each of them can be with Maxine while Maxine is engaged in amorous activity with Malkovich himself. Craig is the only one who openly questions the implications of the portal: "It raises all sorts of philosophical questions about the nature of self, about the existence of the soul. Am I me? Is Malkovich, Malkovich? Was the Buddha right, is duality an illusion? Do you see what a can of worms this portal is? I don't think I can go on living my life as I have lived it. There's only one thing to do. Let's get married right away." Craig sees the emergence of the portal in his life as an opportunity to marry Maxine, and thus escape marital monotony and issues. However, Craig refuses to examine the causes of his misery, and looks for a "quick fix."

The central theme of the movie Being John Malkovich is that of personal dissatisfaction. Similarly to the case of a central theme in a book, personal dissatisfaction becomes the motivation for all the actions of the characters. The lack of fulfillment - be it professional, in the case of Craig, or emotional in the case of his wife - as well as low self-esteem are what drive these characters towards extreme situations. Most people would say they find themselves dissatisfied with their lives. Although their reasons and degree of discontent may vary tremendously, it is safe to say that most people who are unhappy with their lives and selves would trade places with people they consider to be better off. In fact, there are many who would trade places with anyone just for the sake of change, and the hope that by being someone else for a period of time, they could discover their real self and even be able to embrace it. This is precisely what Being John Malkovich is all about: changing identities means not only changing jobs, spouses, or physical appearance, it can mean changing your inner self, your gender and sexual orientation. All these changes are directed towards finding an inner balance which the characters severely lack.

Thesis: This paper explores the ways in which the portal inside John Malkovich changes the three main characters as well as the consequences of these changes. This paper will argue that these changes ultimately allow the characters to reveal their true selves.

The roles that these characters assume are very flexible in the sense that the subject can be either subject or object, and can even place him/herself outside the scene which enables him/her to have the point-of-view of a mere spectator. In many ways, one can argue that Being John Malkovich is a modern version of "Alice in Wonderland" because it offers the same rabbit holes that the characters can crawl down and enter a world of interchangeable and extremely flexible gender roles and sexual identities. The portal through which the characters are able to experience the life of John Malkovich has a dual role. On the one hand, the portal has the capacity to bend traditional notions of gender and sex identity; on the other, it allows the characters not only to escape their own condition, but to embrace another which is, in the end, their only real attempt at happiness and personal fulfillment. Nonetheless, the experience of being John Malkovich is very profound, and thus does more than offer a mere escape for the characters; it changes their sexual identities and gender roles, and ultimately changes their 'real' lives, i.e. their lives outside the portal.

In order to understand the implications that the portal has on the three main characters - Craig, Lotte and Maxine - it is important to look at how the power relations between them evolve throughout the film as a result of having discovered the portal into Malkovich. The issue of cross-gendered people is also tackled here. In the beginning of the film, Lotte appears to be a rather traditional wife. The fact that she cares for the traumatized chimp is symbolic of her maternal instincts which are present even though the couple does not have any children. In this sense, Lotte does not present any of the criteria which has been traditionally associated with cross-gendered people. However, upon discovering the inner world of Malkovich, she finds herself in the position of identifying with a man; this is a subtle reference to the fact that "a rigid interpretation of the norms on which a cross-gendered person would be diagnosed" (Butler: 95), simply leads to an incapacity of the spectator to grasp what is happening on screen. One explanation as to Lotte's sexual attraction to Maxine could be the denial of her own femininity which she needs to find in someone else. In fact, when she learns about the secret portal into Malkovich, she says: "I think it's kinda sexy that John Malkovich has a portal, y'know, sort of like, it's like, like he has a vagina. it's sort of vaginal, y'know, like he has a, he has a penis and a vagina. I mean, it's sort of like... Malkovich's... feminine side. I like that." Her dysfunctional marriage is what prompts her to wish for a reversal of gender roles; while inside Malkovich, she becomes the male element in the actor whereas the latter becomes the female part. Rejected as a woman in real life, Lotte finds consolation as a man while being with Maxine inside of Malkovich.

Craig feels he is not given the chance to exhibit his skills; his case is the classical example of complete professional dissatisfaction: "Nobody's looking for a puppeteer in today's wintry economic climate." In many ways, Craig represents the misunderstood artist who more often than not, is not appreciated by society. The myth of the artist is very well constructed in Being John Malkovich: Craig's inner struggle is generated by the others' incapacity to appreciate his art. Moreover, Craig feels rejected because his art does not fit in today's society: "You don't know how lucky you are being a monkey. Because consciousness is a terrible curse. I think. I feel. I suffer. And all I ask in return is the opportunity to do my work. And they won't allow it... because I raise issues." However, he does not question his own value, on the contrary, he blames society and feels the latter cannot appreciate his skills. Not once does he question his skills. Craig is neither conceited nor arrogant because an attitude of self-importance requires certain features that he lacks, such as strength and the ability to relate to others. Instead, his stance is one of self-victimization; Craig feels wronged, isolated, rejected; these feelings are the cause of his constant pain and inner turmoil. His art is the most important thing to Craig, but it is also what makes him unhappy. He addresses the chimp and complains about… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Thinking Through Queer Identities in the Film Being John Malkovich.  (2008, March 18).  Retrieved March 1, 2021, from

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"Thinking Through Queer Identities in the Film Being John Malkovich."  March 18, 2008.  Accessed March 1, 2021.