Sat, 04 Nov 2000

Step inside 'Being John Malkovich' for alternative fun

By Hartoyo Pratiknyo

JAKARTA (JP): Those who subscribe to the credo that suspension of disbelief is a major element of the filmmaker's art should make it a point to see Being John Malkovich, which will be shown Sunday, Nov. 5, at the Djakarta Theater. One of 117 entries in the ongoing Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest), the film is easily one of the weirdest and most impossible movies made in recent years.

Graig Schwartz (John Cusack), a down-on-his-luck puppeteer scanning the newspapers for a job, lands himself a position as a filing clerk in an office located on the 7 1/2th floor of a Central New York building. Reporting for work, he steps into the elevator where a kind lady is luckily on hand to help him stop it between the 7th and 8th floor and to pry open the door with a crowbar.

Craig finds himself in the corridor of an office with ceilings so low that everybody must walk around stooped ("to keep the overhead low").

Even at this point it should be clear to the viewer that the story about to unfold will bear as little semblance to reality as Alice in Wonderland.

But the madness begins in earnest when Craig discovers hidden behind one of the filing cabinets in his office a little door, which opens onto a sort of portal that leads directly into the brain of John Malkovich, one of America's most popular actors, allowing one to see the world through his eyes. After about 15 minutes, the ride ends and the visitor -- or traveler -- is dumped at the side of a New Jersey turnpike.

Craig initially keeps the discovery to himself, but he becomes attracted to Maxine, a sexy fellow office worker played superbly by Catherine Keener, and to get closer to her he lets her in on the secret. Together they set up a company -- appropriately called J.M. Inc. -- to allow ordinary people to experience what it is like to be John Malkovich, even if just for 15 minutes, for US$200 a trip.

One can imagine the many consequences involved if all this were possible. What if someone could actually enter someone's body and see and experience all the things the "host" is experiencing? How would it affect his or her life? What if someone else could control our mind and body the way a puppeteer controls his puppets? What if a man enters a women's brain or vice versa?

Absurd complications abound. Things start getting rather complex when Craig's wife Lotte becomes addicted to being John Malkovich and lets herself, as Malkovich, be seduced by Maxine. In another hilarious moment in the film, lunatics dwell in Malkovich's head as he is busy studying Shakespeare and starts acting crazily.

However, all that's good must come to an end. Malkovich discovers that something funny is going on in his head and begins investigating. He discovers the secret of the portal, and to see what everyone is seeing and experiencing while they are being him, he forces his way into the portal and takes the trip himself. He enters his brain and gets into one of the most absurd situations someone can encounter. He lands in a room filled with Malkoviches in which the only dialog consists of the words "Malkovich, Malkovich ... Malkovich".

The craziest thing about the whole absurd plot is that it works. One may not exactly be led to suspend one's disbelief, yet one can easily accept the possibility that such a change of persona -- and not necessarily by the means such as the film suggests -- might just be possible, and to ponder the consequences. On the one hand this is due to the splendid acting by everyone involved, and on the other to Jonze's witty direction.

The film's ending feels a little bit artificial, but the comedy is never crude or slapstick. Not bad for the first feature film by a man known mostly for his prize-winning commercials and clever MTV music videos.

Saturday's film list:

Surat untuk Bidadari, 4:55 p.m., The Thin Blue Line, 7:05 p.m., Aguire or The Wrath of God, 9:15 p.m., at TIM 1.

Petualangan Sherina, 5:35 p.m., Nang Nak, 7:45 p.m., Long Night Journey into the Day, 9:45 p.m., TIM 2. Cyclo, 1 p.m., Taxandria, 3:15 p.m., Hana Bi, 5:30 p.m., Eating Air, 7:45 p.m., Plaza Senayan theater.

Ratcatcher, 5:30 p.m., Not One Less, 7:45 p.m., High Fidelity, 10 p.m., Jakarta theater.

Invitation to a Wedding, 5 p.m., Punitive Damage, 7:15 p.m., Under Suspicion, 9:30 p.m., PPHUI, Pusat Perfilman Usmar Ismail, Jl. H.R. Rasuna Said, Kav. 22, South Jakarta, phone 5268458).

For more information, call JiFFest office at 9238364.