Keith Staskiewicz
May 11, 2012 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Being John Malkovich

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
runtime
112 minutes
Wide Release Date
10/29/99
performer
John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich
guest performer
Brad Pitt
director
Spike Jonze
Producers
Gramercy Pictures, Propaganda Films, Single Cell Pictures
distributor
Gramercy Pictures
author
Charlie Kaufman
genre
Comedy, Sci-fi and Fantasy

We gave it an A

”Consciousness is a terrible curse,” John Cusack’s character bemoans to a chimpanzee in Being John Malkovich (1999, R, 1 hr., 53 mins.), the strange fish of a film that first opened a portal into the tumultuously recursive mind of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman — and is now getting a well-deserved Criterion treatment. That line could serve as Kaufman’s mission statement: He writes about men who are trapped in their own minds, either literally, as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or through some metaphorical, metaphysical, meta-everything framework like Adaptation or Synecdoche, New York. Cusack’s Craig Schwartz is a professionally and emotionally frustrated puppeteer who discovers an escape route into the headspace of actor John Malko-vich. The still boyish-faced Cusack sports a ponytail, a patchy five o’clock shadow, and a hollowed-out expression that suggests he aged all 14 years since The Sure Thing in one day. He, like costar Catherine Keener and director Spike Jonze, does some of his best work here, and Being John Malkovich is much more than a primer on a writer’s pet themes. It’s a delightfully absurdist, occasionally off-putting masterpiece of existential voyeurism that runs on its own off-brand logic. Even 13 years later, it still feels as if the film sprang fully formed from Kaufman’s mind only to take the back door into ours. The EXTRAS are a rabbit hole of their own. There’s a new behind-the-scenes documentary, a dialogue between Malkovich and funnyman-slash-fan John Hodgman, and a commentary track not from Jonze but from frequent Kaufman collaborator Michel Gondry (who directed Eternal Sunshine). It offers viewers exactly what everyone in the film is searching for: a different perspective. A

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