"Ever wanted to be someone else?"This 1999 comedy is the first teaming of director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.An unemployed puppeteer, Craig Schwartz (John Cusack), finds employment as a filing clerk in the 7½th floor of the Mertin-Flemmer Building in New York City. One day, he finds a hole hidden behind a cabinet, which leads into the head of John Malkovich, an actor who is playing himself in the movie. Mind Screw ensues.Also, see Being Andrew Plotkin, an Interactive Fiction parody/homage to the film.
This film provides examples of:
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Shortly before cast in the film, Malkovich told Charlie Kaufman that he, himself, has once lived in an apartment building with a 7½th floor.
- And I Must Scream:
- The final fate of Craig, who is forced to watch Malkovich's daughter be raised by the woman he loved and the woman he hated.
- This also happens to Malkovich while Craig was in control of his body for eight months, and this could be his situation for the rest of his life depending on how the whole host thing works.
- Ambiguously Gay / If It's You, It's Okay / Heterosexual Life-Partners: The nature of Lotte and Maxine's relationship by the end of the film is open to interpretation.
- As Himself: Offbeat actor John Malkovich plays offbeat actor John Malkovich, although there are several significant differences between the character and the real person, as well as a couple thrown in just to make the point that they're not meant to be exactly the same (for instance, the film makes a point of mentioning that Malkovich's middle name is Horatio, which the real Malkovich's is Gavin).
- Bizarrchitecture: A classic example. The Mertin-Flemmer Building's 7½th floor is just the start of it.
- Black Bug Room: Lotte and Maxine run through Malkovich's.
- Brain with a Manual Control: Initially averted, until Craig discovers he can control Malkovich's body, then it's played straight. There's no actual control room, however, just being in his mind and controlling him.
- Brick Joke: When Craig finally leaves John Malkovich's mind forever, he's holding the plank of wood he had at the very beginning.
- California Doubling: The whole movie was shot in L.A., but set in New York. When Lotte falls out onto the New Jersey Turnpike for the second time, look in the background for some palm trees that shouldn't exist.
- The Cameo: Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn and Brad Pitt all play themselves.
- Check Please:Maxine: Tell me a little about yourself.
Craig: Well, I'm a puppeteer...
Maxine: [turns to bartender] Check!
- Downer Ending: Craig jumps into the portal too late. As a result, he is trapped inside the mind of the girl being raised by both of his former wives, unable to affect anything. Forever. The last lines of the movie are him weeping and pleading that the girl look away from the two women laughing and playing with each other. Given that he turned into a psychopathic Jerkass a certain amount seems like karma. In addition, John Malkovich has his body taken over permanently by Lester and his gang, with the implication that they'll someday attempt to do the same to Emily. The ending does have a bright side, though, in that Lotte and Maxine do get to live a happy life with their child.
- Evil Versus Evil: There are no genuinely moral characters in the film, save Malkovich himself, and even he's painted as a bit of a pervert in the trip through his memories. Everyone else is trying to take control of Malkovich, and worse his as yet unborn daughter, with no regard for the fact that they're essentially killing them by suppressing their consciousnesses forever.
- Femme Fatale: Maxine.
- Lotte spends the whole first half of the movie making ridiculous, flower-child psychology statements like "Elijah is suffering from some childhood trauma". Then, when Lotte is struggling against the ropes she's tied in, Elijah has a first-person flashback to when his parents were tied up (complete with monkey-language dialogue and English subtitles), and he couldn't untie their bonds before he was captured.
- Craig performs "Craig's Dance of Despair" with a puppet at the opening, then performs it using John Malkovich's body.
- Near the beginning of the movie Craig and Lotte are making dinner and the parrot is being annoying. When Lotte goes to put it up it says "Help! She's locking me in a cage!" and it's kind of cute. Later in the movie however when Craig goes crazy and stuffs Lotte in a cage, she screams "Help! He's locking me in a cage!"
- Early on, Maxine asks Craig, "Are you a fag?" By the end of the movie, she's in a lesbian relationship.
- Craig watches a video where Captain Mertin gets a proposal from a midget in need of help. Later, Lester gets a similar proposal from Lotte (he's even holding the same pipe from the beginning).
- Earlier, Craig is disgusted by a famous puppeteer who is solely a gimmick celebrity. This is ultimately his fate when he controls Malkovich.
- The only thing that Lotte wants from Craig is a child. She finally gets this surprisingly when she becomes a father inside Malkovich.
- While Craig is trying to intuit Maxine's name, one of the other names he drones through is Emily.
- Genre-Busting: A comedy drama laden with surrealism which functions as a borderline philosophy course.
- Grand Theft Me: The entire point of the doorway inside the Mertin Flemmer Building. Turns out that Mertin has been using it for decades to jump from host to host as his current one grows too old... which means that little Emily is doomed to become the next victim.
- Granola Girl: Lotte.
- If I Can't Have You: Lotte to Maxine in the film's climax.
- Karma Houdini: Lester and his friends, Maxine, Lotte... everyone except Craig and Malkovich himself, really.
- Leitmotif: Most of the musical score consists of a single six-chord melody in a canon-like arrangement, making slight adjustments for the given moment or character.
- Loser Protagonist: Craig starts out the movie as a penniless puppeteer. When both he and Lotte try to make a move on Maxine at the same time, she rejects Craig because she doesn't find him physically attractive. Ouch.
- Mainstream Obscurity: An in-universe example. The characters admire John Malkovich immensely, and they seem convinced that he's one of the world's greatest living actors, but none of them can actually name a single movie that he's been in (except "That jewel thief movie", which Malkovich insists he never made).
- Mathematician's Answer:Craig: Hi. Do you know that I don't even know your name, or where you work?
- Mental Story: A significant chunk of the movie takes place in Malkovich's head.
- Mental World: The chase through John Malkovich's unconscious mind.
- Me's a Crowd: When Malkovich himself attempts to use the portal, he finds himself in a bizarre world where everyone has his head and no vocabulary other than his name.Malkovich: Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich?
Malkovich: Malkovich Malkovich.
- Missing Floor: Level 7½. In order to get there, you have to block the elevator and pry open its door with a crowbar.
- Mind Screw: In more ways than one.
- Pokémon Speak: The Mental World Malkoviches.
- Pop Culture Osmosis: ESPN ran an entire ad campaign on itself using the film's premise, where fans would jump into the bodies of athletes - and end up on the same ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.
- Primal Scene: In Malkovich's subconscious.
- Running Gag: People only knowing John Malkovich for being in "the jewel thief movie", with Malkovich insisting that he wasn't.
- Sex by Proxy: Lotte and Maxine have sex by way of Maxine seducing Malkovich while Lotte is in his head.
- Sitting Sexy on a Piano: Used disturbingly.
- Surreal Horror: A hole in an office buildings that is used to take someone over. The scene where Malkovich tries to go through it.
- Triang Relations: Craig and Lotte are married, but Craig is attracted to Maxine, who is more interested in Lotte.
- Unguided Lab Tour: Pretty much how the portal to John Malkovich's psyche is discovered.
- Weirdness Censor: Granted he didn't witness what Malkovich was going through firsthand, but perhaps it's fitting (especially given the events of 2011) that Charlie Sheen didn't think anything Malkovich was saying sounded weird at all. Actually, he found the whole thing kinda hot.
- What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?: Invoked and subverted for laughs in the same sentence. Shortly after discovering the portal for the first time, Craig makes a pseudo-intellectual remark that this revelation "raises all kinds of philosophical-type questions." Subtext: "Don't read too much into this, audience."
- What Have I Become?: Craig actually says this when he considers how he tied up Lotte and locked her in a cage with her monkey. Then he goes right on doing what he was doing.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Of a sort. More like a who are they now epilogue.
- Your Cheating Heart: Both Lotte and Craig (married) pursue Maxine. Neither of them are truly upset about the other forsaking their marriage though, they're upset about which one Maxine is paying attention to.
Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich. Malkovich.