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Will Lewis

Dr. Greg Smith

Before director Spike Jonze found his inner “Wild Thing,” he visually adapted

Charlie Kaufman’s surreal tale of literally “being John Malkovich,” in Being John

Malkovich (1999). The film presents Kaufman-esc characters – downtrodden, grungy

people, striving to live one day at a time, but are confronted with an abnormal portal into

the mind and body of actor John Malkovich. Jonze delves with the notion of

reconstructing the cinematic environment by experimenting with perspective through

cinematography.

Perspective is seen through first-person obviously to illicit a feeling of actually

being inside Malkovich’s head, yet, a deeper analysis lies within the text compared to

this, which merely exists on the surface. Both the audience and the character entering the

portal are both inside Malkovich’s perspective. In a way, this alters the cinematic

environment through not only presenting one perspective (Malkovich’s), but is being

seen through another (character’s) as fantasy. The character has control over mind and

body, however the audience does not, therefore we are not “being John Malkovich,” but

instead are inside the perspective of the transported character “being John Malkovich.”

The normal cinematic environment of first-person perspective is broken by this barrier.

In the scene where Malkovich is showering, it is seen through his point of view, but with

Lotte’s overhead narration added to the image. As he dries off with a towel, she giggles

and moans once we see the towel caress his body, therefore his action elicits a reaction

from her, and her reaction elicits a separate reaction by the audience. This combines

Murray Smith’s theories of perceptual alignment with subjective access: shown within
the same frame, presenting Malkovich as the point of view, being that we perceive his

visual and aural surrounding, but at the same time have Lotte’s internal voice to paint

over the frame.

Unlike first-person perspective that is seen through the eye of the character, on the

other hand, what is shown through the eye of the camera brings up a different approach.

In the beginning of the film as Craig gets off the elevator onto the 7 ½ floor for the first

time, a long shot is used to show perspective in an alternate meaning of the word: as

geometrical shape and lines. This environment is reconstructed by enhancing the

emphasis of the angled foreground and background within the same frame. Andre Bazin

was infatuated with this representation, because it takes corners of both sides of the hall

and decreases the size from the viewer’s eye in the foreground to the vanishing point in

the background. By doing so, this adds depth of field to the two-dimensional frame.

While seeing through the eye of the character presents a subjective narrow view of the

world (supported even further with the use of an iris), however, using the eye of the

camera is objective in regards to presenting the representation of the world realistically.

Perspective in this sense of the meaning, takes the frame and shows the environment

reconstructed by placement of the camera.

If anything, this shows how a single word (perspective) can have multiple

definitions (eye of character presents fantasy/eye of camera presents reality), and yet still

elicit the same goal (reconstructing the cinematic environment) through a particular

technique (cinematography). Jonze brings the eye of the character and the eye of the

camera together by showing sequences where the audience bounces back and forth from

one to the next. This reconstructs the cinematic environment in the way it presents both
fantasy and reality together. Although at the end of the film, Jonze poses the question:

what is fantasy and what is reality? For Maxine and Lotte, their fantasy (being together)

becomes a reality in happiness. But, for Craig, his fantasy (being someone else) becomes

his reality in desolation.