Scopophilic Pleasure and Gender Identity in Being John Malkovich

1 Since the early 1970’s feminist critics and theorists have debated and analyzed the idea of film spectatorship. Most of these feminist writings are rooted in Freud’s psychoanalytic theories and revolve around the idea of scopophilia, or pleasure in looking. Some argue that it is impossible for a female viewer to be a true spectator of film due to the patriarchal nature of the industry that constantly projects women on the screen as passive objects that merely receive the gaze of the male characters, viewers and camera, without ever returning that gaze (Laura Mulvey, 1975). Other theorists argue that a woman can receive scopophilic pleasure from film, but that this is only possible if the female spectator employs a form of transgendered spectatorship (Mulvey, 1989; Ann Kaplan, 1983). Still others argue that it is impossible for a female character to be anything but passive and, in a sense, sightless, in a conventional Hollywood narrative (Mary Ann Doane, 1981). But is this always the case? Is it possible for a film that was both written and directed by a man and produced within the studio system to be satisfying in term of spectatorial pleasure for a female audience? In this paper I will discuss some of the major theoretical perspectives of spectatorship in film, applying them to one film in particular, Being John Malkovich. I will argue that through its portrayal of issues of gender identity, this film not only encourages female spectatorial pleasure, but that it also effectively illustrates some of the issues of feminist film theory that have been debated for decades. Literature Before delving into an analysis of the 1999 film Being John Malkovich, it is important to discuss the theoretical basis of spectatorship of film. Often in this paper I will be referring to the concept of “the gaze”. This concept is a product of the Women’s


2 Movement of the 1970’s and what was, at the time, a fledgling area of film criticism known as feminist film theory. The concept itself is deeply rooted in Freudian psychoanalytic theory and the work of Christian Metz, Jacques Lacan and Jean-Louis Baudry. However, the birth of the gaze must be attributed to a 1975 article appearing in Screen titled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, written by Laura Mulvey. Mulvey, a film critic, director and theoretician, wrote her groundbreaking article in 1973, but it was not published until two years later at the height of the debate over what feminist film theory actually was. At the time the article was written, feminist film theory dwelled in the study of “women’s films”, or films that were produced for a predominantly female audience (Molly Haskell, 1974). Writers and researchers focused on the fixed and repeated images of women as objectionable distortions, asserting that these unrealistic images have a negative impact on the female spectator. Both semiotic and psychoanalytic theories were used to conceptualize the power of this patriarchal imagery (Smelik, 1999). Also at this time in history, Claire Johnston (1973) became one of the first feminist film critics to offer a sustained critique of stereotypes from a semiotic point of view. Johnston drew on Barthes’ notion of “myth”, investigating the myth of “woman” in film (Smelik, 1999). Johnston argued that the ideological meaning of woman is empty in relation to herself. Rather, women are negatively represented as “not-man” in film (Johnston, 1973). Woman as woman is absent from the text of film (Smelik, 1999). Mulvey’s article, however, changed the direction of feminist film theory. In “Visual and Other Pleasures” (1975), Mulvey focused on the concept of scopophilia. Scopophilia, literally meaning “pleasure in looking”, is a term from Freudian theory that


3 is named as one of the primary sexual drives in humans. Along with this pleasure in looking comes ego identification with the object. In the arena of the cinema, the pleasure and ego identification come from an object on the screen. This cinematic object of pleasurable looking, according to Mulvey, is always the female. It is the female in film onto which male characters project their “fantastic gaze”, as does the camera, and in turn, the audience (Mulvey, 1975). Thus, the cinematic gaze is three-fold in nature. The female in the film is the object of attention of three separate entities, the male actor, the cinematic appartatus and the spectators in the theatre (Mulvey, 1975). According to Mulvey, women have traditionally played an exhibitionist role, simultaneously being looked at and displayed (Mulvey, 1975). Mulvey characterizes this phenomenon as the “to-be-looked-at-ness” of the woman. Whereas the man’s role in the film is to advance the story and dialogue, the female role is to be a passive inspiration for the male characters’ action. This causes a split between the active male and the passive female in film (Mulvey, 1975). Mulvey’s article forever changed the direction of feminist film criticism, in a sense homogenizing the field of inquiry. Some would say Mulvey’s work was the basis for a positive focusing of the work of feminist critics, zeroing in on the role of women from a psychoanalytic perspective, and in terms of character motivation and narrative progression. However, critics would argue Mulvey’s work stifled the field and caused an overemphasis on the stringent nature of her position that women are always the symbolic incarnation of the Oedipal castration threat. In fact, Mulvey has since written that her original article was meant to “articulate rather than originate, to catch something of the interests and ideas that were already around in the air, within the changing context that


4 the Women’s Movement and its aftermath provided.” (Mulvey, 1989). Mulvey downplays her role in the history of feminist theory, but in reality, Mulvey’s ideas and concepts have been cited in hundreds of research papers and critical essays over the last twenty-five years. It is, indeed, important to understand Mulvey’s stance that the gaze is borne of the psychoanalytic paradox of phallocentrism. Mulvey writes that a woman’s role in film is two-fold. First, woman symbolizes the castration threat. Secondly, the woman raises her child in what Mulvey calls, “the symbolic”, in which she turns her child into the signifier of her own desire to possess a penis (Mulvey, 1975). Therefore, in patriarchal culture, the woman is a signifier of the male other and is seen as a bearer, not a maker, of meaning (Mulvey, 1975). This mirrors Mulvey’s idea that women in film are passive, while males are active. Women in film are merely vessels to receive the gaze of the male character, the audience and the camera, while simultaneously being displayed for scopophilic pleasure of the male spectators. In fact, Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze left no room for the concept of the female gaze. This has been a matter of much debate in the past few decades. Is it possible for the female figure in film to possess the gaze? Teresa de Lauretis (1984; 1987) is one feminist theorist whose ideas were borne from Mulvey’s 1975 essay. De Lauretis’ “Oedipus Interruptus” was published in 1984 as a chapter in her book Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema (de Lauretis, 1984). It is de Lauretis’ assertion that the cinema solicits complicity of female spectators in a desire whose terms are those of Oedipus (DeLauretis, 1984). DeLauretis reiterates the idea that in narrative cinema all looks converge on the female figure. Woman is framed by the look of the camera as


5 icon; an image made to be looked at by the spectator as well as the male character(s) (DeLauretis, 1984). What DeLauretis adds to the concept of the gaze is her assessment of how a female spectator can be entertained by this framing of the female. Her writing discusses the idea that women spectators’ cannot be assumed to be single or simple (1984) She implies that women belong to a common group, but that we are still individuals with differences as well as similarities. Therefore, it is impossible to generalize about members of any given sex. Furthermore, de Lauretis states that no one can see themselves as an inert object and a sightless body, as implied by Mulvey (1984) Women, after all, have an ego, too (de Lauretis, 1984). For this reason, de Lauretis’ position is that films must seduce women into femininity. The female subject identifies with the narrative, even though it is Oedipal in nature. According to de Lauretis, “for a film…to please its audiences or at least induce them to buy the ticket…it has to please. All films must offer their spectators some kind of pleasure, something of interest, be it a technical, artistic, critical interest, or the kind of pleasure that goes by the names of entertainment and escape” (de Lauretis, 1984). For de Lauretis, identification is itself a movement, a subject-process, a relation (Smelik, 1999). Kaja Silverman is another author influenced by Mulvey’s work. However, Silverman (1988) asserts that the viewer, whether male or female, identifies with the look of the male protagonist. Although Silverman writes of the existence of a female gaze, she asserts that the gaze is only partial and flawed, seeing things that aren’t there and succumbing to paranoia and delusions (Silverman, 1988). Mary Ann Doane (1981; 1991) is another feminist theorist who has written about the concept of the gaze in film. Doane’s article “Caught and Rebecca: The Inscription of


6 Femininity As Absence” furthered the ideas perpetuated by Mulvey, arguing that socalled women’s films of the1940’s were neither the possession of women, nor were their terms of address dictated by the presence of a female spectator (Doane, 1981). Doane states that any attempt to produce a film that does not reduce the female to a passive role is impossible in conventional Hollywood narratives. Although some films include what appear to be strong female roles in which the characters dare to look for themselves, by the end of the film the women have been marginalized and reduced to a passive role. In fact, the gaze seemingly appropriated by the women in these two specific films, is represented as chaotic, confused and paranoid (Doane, 1981). Doane argues that these qualities are the result of the confusion between subjectivity and objectivity, or the struggle between internal and external (Doane, 1981). Another of Doane’s arguments revolves around voyeurism. She argues that the female spectator lacks the necessary distance to find voyeuristic pleasure in her spectatorship, because there is not distance between the female and the image. The female is the image. Therefore, there is an “overwhelming presence-to-itself of the female body” (Doane, 1981). Doane believes that the female spectator is consumed by the image rather than consuming it (Smelik, 1999). To avoid this, however, the female spectator can use masquerade to effectively distance herself from the image, thus wearing femininity as a mask (Doane, 1981). Laura Mulvey herself began to rethink her original conception of the gaze in the 1980’s, writing her follow up to “Visual and Other Pleasures” titled “Afterthoughts on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ inspired by King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun”. In this article, Mulvey defends her original stance on “the gaze”, but addresses female


7 spectatorship. Mulvey (1989) suggests that the female spectator identifies with the passive femininity programmed for her, but is also able to receive enjoyment by adopting the masculine point of view. Mulvey writes, “…the ‘grammar’ of the story places the reader, listener or spectator with the hero. The woman spectator in the cinema can make use of an age-old cultural tradition adapting her to this convention, which eases a transition out of her own sex into another” (Mulvey, 1989). Mulvey goes on to state, “Three elements can thus be drawn together: Freud’s concept of ‘masculinity’ in women, the identification triggered by the logic of a narrative grammar, and the ego’s desire to fantasise itself in a certain, active, manner. All three suggest that, as desire is given cultural materiality in a text, for women (from childhood onwards) trans-sex identification is a habit that very easily become second nature. However, this Nature does not sit easily and shifts restlessly in its borrowed transvestite clothes.” (Mulvey, 1989) In fact, the concept of masquerade was introduced by Claire Johnston in 1975 in her analysis of Anne of the Indies. In this 1951 film, the female character used crossdressing to masquerade as a male pirate. Johnston asserted that the female masquerade signified not only a masking but also an, ‘unmasking’ in the deconstructionist sense of exposing and criticizing. (Johnston, 1975; Smelik, 2002) Ann Kaplan (1983) added new life to the concept of female spectatorship by asserting that female characters can indeed possess the gaze, even making the male characters objects of this look. However, being a woman, the gaze and the woman’s desire has no power behind it, rendering it useless. Kaplan argues that the only way a female character can own and activate the gaze is to be in a masculine position of power. (Kaplan, 1983) Even in the study of horror film, a genre that has long had the label of being a misogynistic-leaning enterprise, critics have investigated the idea of spectatorship and


8 masquerade. Carol Clover (1992) is one theorist who argues that both female and male spectators identify bisexually. Clover writes about what she calls the “final girl” in horror films. It is this female heroine of the film is the one who fights, resists and survives the psychopath-killer-monster (Clover, 1992). In doing so, the final girl acquires the gaze, dominates the action and is thus, masculinized. Due to the fact the audience for horror films is predominantly male, the male spectator is forced to identify with the woman’s fear and pain. Therefore, Clover argues that this bisexual identification can apply to both male and female spectators (Clover, 1992). Work by Gaylyn Studlar calls Mulvey's original conception of "the gaze" into question. In her 1985 article "Masochism and the Perverse Pleasures of Cinema", Studlar proposes an alternative approach to feminist theory. Whereas Mulvey focuses on the phallic phase of childhood development, Studlar focuses on the pregenital period (Studlar, 1992). Studlar refers to the earlier model popularized by Mulvey as "sadistic" while her model can be seen as "masochistic". What this means is Studlar focuses on the role of the "oral mother" rather than Oedipal conflicts. By doing so, the primary figure of identification and power in filmic texts shifts from the male patriarch to the woman as mother (Studlar, 1992). Women are powerful in their own right because they possess what the man lacks, the breast and the womb. Rather than seeing female as "lack", from Studlar's point of view, it is the male who "lacks" (Studlar, 1992). In addititon, Studlar goes so far as to call Mulvey's polarized model of the gaze "her blind spot" (Studlar, 1992). For Studlar, the masculine look actually contains passive elements that sometimes signify submission rather than possession of the female (Studlar, 1992). Whereas other theorists believe women can appropriate the look only


9 through a sort of cross-dressing or transgendered experience (Butler, 1990; Mulvey, 1989; Modleski, 1997), Studlar’s masochistic view is not limited to enjoyment by the male. Pregenital pleasures are equal for the male and the female, therefore a woman need not abandon her feminine identity (Studlar, 1985). Judith Mayne is another one of the authors who has questioned Mulvey’s work. In Mayne’s "Paradoxes of Spectatorship" she argues that if indeed the cinematic apparatus is as saturated with Oedipal desire and Freudian precepts as believed by Mulvey and others, then the history of the cinema is made up of mere variations on a single theme (Mayne, 1995). Mayne asserts that cinematic spectatorship can work in a number of ways, dependent on three main ideas. Those ideas are address and reception, fantasy, and negotiation (1995). Mayne’s first criticism of traditional feminist film theory is the assumption that the spectator is assigned a position of coherence by the cinematic apparatus. Mayne believes this assertion denies the spectator any flexibility in observation and thought processing (1995) Rather than an "ideal" viewer, Mayne reminds us that there is always room for unexpected and non-homogenous reception based on a viewer’s individual characteristics (1995) Mayne goes on to argue that fantasy and its structure also point to the fact that the spectator role must not always be male. Instead, Mayne agrees that the fantasies are homogenous structures (for example, sexuality, castration, differences between the sexes), but we interpret these fantasies uniquely as individuals (1995) Furthermore, Mayne suggests that rather than classifying all viewers and film into stringent categories of dominant/oppositional or passive/active, it is preferable to designate all reading as negotiated (1995)


10 Ussher (1997) agrees that the gaze "reifies the social position" of man within the traditional script of heterosexuality. However, she argues that, just as women have resisted the "Prince Charming" fairly tales of our culture, they have actively "reformulated and resisted the archetypal ’masculine gaze’ in cinema (1997) Lorraine Gamman (1989) argues that women spectators may reject the male gaze and, instead, identify with a female gaze they "read" in mainstream media narratives . Arbuthnot and Seneca (1990) also challenge feminist film research that concentrates on "male paradigms and male pleasure, even if only to challenge them…" (1990). Brenda Cooper (2000) asserts in her article written on the film Thelma & Louise that Hollywood films can, indeed, represent a female gaze, or "appropriation" of the male gaze. It is upon this conceptual foundation that I will use feminist theories of film spectatorship to analyze the innovative 1999 film Being John Malkovich. I will focus on issues of gender identity as they relate to spectatorship and representation within the film’s narrative structure. Being John Malkovich Being John Malkovich marks the feature film directorial debut of thirty-year-old Spike Jonze, as well as the first screenplay from newcomer Charlie Kaufman. Jonze was, up until this point, better known as the director of quirky, award-winning music videos (Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”, Wax’s “California”, Fat Boy Slim’s “Praise You” just to name a few) and flashy television commercials (such as Levi’s “Tainted Love”- operating room spot and Nike’s Agassi/Sampras tennis match that takes place in the middle of an urban intersection). However, despite the film’s unconventional subject matter and oddball script, Jonze rejects the urge to go overboard. As Dennis Lim of The Village Voice


11 writes, “Jonze directs with a poker face that sneakily downplays the relentless forward motion and renders the underlying sense of mischief doubly anarchic” (Lim, 1999). This off-beat dark comedy revolves around the lives of the 30-something husband and wife Craig and Lotte Schwartz. Craig is a frustrated street puppeteer (played by John Cusack) with a ponytail, shy demeanor and a severe lack of interpersonal skills. Lotte (Cameron Diaz in a bad wig) works at a pet store, but has turned their small apartment into a home for wayward animals, including an iguana, a parrot, a dog, and a chimp named Elijah who is apparently suffering from acid stomach brought on by childhood trauma (according to his chimp-psychiatrist). While Lotte showers her animals with affection, Craig spends much of his time in the basement, practicing his puppeteering skills with dolls that look strikingly similar to he and Lotte. During the day, Craig performs erotically charged versions of Abelard and Heloise on city street corners for spare change. However, his career is cut short by an angry parent whose young daughter stops to watch the show. As Craig says, “consciousness is a terrible curse. I raise issues”. Lotte persuades Craig to find a real job, upon which Craig puts his nimble fingers to use as a file clerk on floor 7 ½ of a Manhattan office building. The floor upon which Craig’s new employer Lester Corp. is located is literally a half floor with low ceilings that cause the employees to constantly walk hunched over. Several jokes about the “low overhead” of working in such an environment ensue. On Craig’s first day he meets Maxine (Catherine Keener), a beautiful, selfconfident woman who works on the same floor. Craig is instantly struck by the woman and tries to win her over with awkward compliments and small talk. Maxine has no


12 interest whatsoever in Craig, going so far as to tell him, “If you ever got me, you wouldn’t have a clue what to do with me.” Early on in the film, we are already seeing Maxine as the dominant, controlling figure. This is a role traditionally played by a male character in films. Although Maxine’s character at times reverts to the stereotype of the condescending bitch, she is the character that acts. She is also a female character who seems to possess “the gaze”. It is Maxine who looks Craig up and down, while Craig, though physically attracted to Maxine, has a hard time maintaining eye contact with her. She is not just an inert object that inspires action. Although she does inspire change in both Craig and later Lotte, she is always an active presence in the film. At home, Craig retreats to his basement studio where he reworks conversations with Maxine. He’s now built a Maxine-doll that he uses in these scenes, retiring the Lotte-doll to a spot where it hangs on the wall. During these private puppet shows Craig is eloquent as he explains the allure of puppeteering, explaining that, “perhaps it’s the idea of becoming someone else for a little while. Being inside another skin. Thinking differently. Moving differently. Feeling differently.” It is this line that really sums up the idea behind this entire film. As we find out later, everyone in the film, with the exception of Maxine, seems to be tired of the person they are. They all are still searching for their true identity, or at least trying to find the path that will lead them to the person that they could be. It seems that every character in the film has aspirations for an identity that is being kept from them due to any number of circumstances. I assert that one of those major roadblocks is gender. Or, more specifically, traditional gender roles and stereotypes.


13 It is also possible to apply Craig’s quote to the idea of the spectator experiencing life vicariously through the work of the actors on screen. As audience members of a film, we are able to feel the emotions of these characters that are presented to us on the screen. At times it may be just escapism or entertainment, while at other times this film-viewing experience may even reach the level of catharsis for some. The point is, that by watching movies, we are swept up into the lives of imaginary characters, allowing us to relate in some way to the scenarios we view. However, some would argue, including many of the film theorists mentioned earlier, that we don’t all experience film the same way. Furthermore, the differences in spectatorial pleasure, it is argued, may be broken down by gender. Therefore, Jonze and Kaufman may be using Being John Malkovich as a means of escaping the traditional gendered spectatorship one finds in the typical Hollywood film. In real life, Maxine dismisses Craig’s “art”, telling him she could never be involved with a man who “plays with dolls”. Again, the film addresses the issues of traditional gender roles. Maxine’s character has taken on masculine characteristics in the fact that she is the one in the film who takes action, while Craig mostly just lives in a fantasy world. Craig is seen by Maxine as overly feminine due to his inaction, as is exemplified in the way she positions him with the “dolls” remark. Besides the zingers she’s already aimed at Craig questioning his manhood, she also calls him a “fag” at a local bar in front of a group of men. While he is trying to be polite and sensitive in his own inept way, trying to convince her he is interested in her as a person not just a sex object, she isn’t satisfied until he blurts out an inappropriate sexual remark that sounds like something out of a stag film.


14 The story progresses with Maxine continuing to ignore Craig’s advances. Then one fateful day, Craig drops a file folder behind a cabinet in the office. While retrieving it, he discovers a small wooden door leading to a narrow, murky tunnel. Unbeknownst to Craig, he has stumbled upon a portal. A portal that leads from Lester Corp. to the brain of John Malkovich. Soon Craig is crawling on his hands and knees, drawn inexplicably deeper into the muddy passageway. Suddenly, he is sucked forward into the portal and is soon looking through the eyes of John Malkovich. For fifteen minutes (Andy Warhol did predict we would all experience fame for 15 minutes) Craig experiences life through another man’s eyes and then, just as abruptly as he arrived, he is spit out on the side of the New Jersey turnpike. Craig rushes back from his journey to tell Maxine all about it. When Craig sees Maxine he is brimming with excitement, but he also begins questioning the ethical and metaphysical implications of his new discovery. He questions what this portal means in terms of the nature of self and the existence of a soul. “Am I me?” Craig asks. At this point in the film we are confronted with some of the issues of spectatorship that are dealt with in feminist film theory. Craig is a man, a male spectator, literally seeing through the eyes of a male film actor. Although he is shaken and confused by the experience, and even envigorated by it, it is not a completely new experience for him. As a male, suddenly finding himself looking through the eyes of another man, it doesn’t completely turn his world upside down. For Craig, the real change has to do with gender identity rather than sex itself. While Craig inhabits Malkovich’s body for those 15 minutes, no truly earth-shattering actions take place. Malkovich is merely eating toast, looking at himself in the mirror on his way out the


15 door, and then he hails a taxi. However, these mundane activities are done with an air of confidence and perhaps even a hint of entitlement, which Craig has never experienced. When Malkovich gazes into the mirror at his own reflection, he is satisfied with what he sees. Although he could not be characterized as a terribly handsome man, certainly not the typical “Hollywood Hunk”, he is not insecure about his appearance. In contrast, Craig walks somewhat hunched over at all times (not just while on floor 7 ½) with his long hair obscuring his face. In fact, his Craig-puppet often performs a dance of disillusionment in which he looks into the mirror at his face and then smashes the mirror, ashamed of his own reflection. When Craig returns to tell Maxine about his incredible experience she has no interest in participating in this body-swapping enterprise. In fact, Maxine seems to be the only character in this film who is truly content living in her own skin. Instead, she sees the portal as a money-making opportunity. “Is this Malkovich guy appealing?” Maxine asks Craig. “Of course. He’s a celebrity.” Craig replies. This brings up another motif of this film. That is, the lure of celebrity and the somewhat morose obsession people have with learning even the most mundane details of celebrities’ lives. Although this is an important theme, it is not one I will be pursuing in great detail in this paper. When Craig returns home he tell Lotte about his discovery. She’s disbelieving, but decides she wants to try it for herself. Lotte crawls into the portal and is soon looking through the eyes of Malkovich. Unlike Craig who was perplexed but not completely changed by the experience, Lotte is forever altered by the sensation of being inside a man’s body. Malkovich is just toweling off after a shower when Lotte arrives in his body. She giggles with excitement talking about how good she feels, later exclaiming, “I


16 feel sexy!” When she is dumped out at the side of the expressway at the end of her fifteen minutes, she wants to immediately go back and experience the thrill again. “Being inside did something to me. I knew who I was.” Lotte explains to Craig. “But you weren’t you. You were John Malkovich.” Craig retorts. Lotte goes on to laud her experience later that same night saying, “It’s kinda sexy that John Malkovich has a portal. It’s like he has a vagina. Like he has a penis and a vagina. Sorta like Malkovich’s feminine side.” Craig is too preoccupied with Maxine to give any credence to Lotte's theories, but Lotte is determined to revisit Malkovich. In fact, she does go back for another Malkovich experience. When she returns, she barges into the office where Maxine and Craig are plotting their advertising for the portal and tells Craig that she has decided that she is a transsexual. Although she admits it sounds crazy, she reassures Craig that, "for the first time everything felt right". Craig argues with her, but Lotte is determined to reenter the portal. She tells Craig not to stand in the way of her actualization as a man. He believes it is "just a phase". When Lotte reenters Malkovich via the portal she experiences something new. A female "fan" (Maxine, unknown to Lotte) calls and asks him out on a date. Lotte repeats over and over, "meet her there, meet her there, meet her there," trying to will Malkovich to go to the restaurant. Malkovich has reservations, but decides to go, unaware that the little voice in his head is actually that of another person. When Maxine shows up at the restaurant, Lotte is pleasantly surprised. She is attracted to Maxine and vice versa. Maxine made the date knowing Lotte would be inside of him. During their drinks Maxine gazes at Malkovich. Not only does she possess the gaze and use it to her advantage by looking at a male character, she is also gazing, indirectly, at Lotte. Lotte


17 remarks, "I’ve never been looked at this way by a woman before." Again, under the premise of many feminist film theories of spectatorship, this is absolutely true. Although female characters are routinely gazed upon by male characters, the camera and the audience, they are never looked at by other female characters. To do so would suggest that female characters possess the ability and power to gaze. This is just another example of how this film breaks the rules of gendered spectatorship. Later, Maxine is visiting the Schwartz’ apartment to talk more about the portal. It is clear that both Craig and Lotte are in love with Maxine. After dinner, both of them attempt to kiss her at the same time. Maxine has no interest in Craig and tells him so. She admits to Lotte that she is attracted to her. She sensed her "feminine longing" while she was with Malkovich. However, Maxine won’t let Lotte touch her unless she’s inside Malkovich. With this scene the film comments on the importance of the physiology of gender. Maxine is not interested in Lotte physically unless she inhabits the body of a man. This is not to say she doesn’t have feelings for Lotte. Maxine just cannot come to grips with loving another woman. In fact, it seems apparent throughout this film that Maxine has problems with intimacy in any form. Perhaps another one of her stereotypically masculine characteristics. At the same time, the film investigates more fully the idea of spectatorship and gender roles. As a woman who possesses the gaze, Maxine takes on somewhat masculine characteristics. Lotte is a woman who does not possesses the power of the gaze in her natural physical form. By inhabiting Malkovich’s body, Lotte and Maxine are on equal footing. Both have power. Without the male physical shell, Lotte is not on the same playing field as Maxine.


18 Later the next day, Maxine makes love to Malkovich while Lotte is inside. "I love you Lotte", Maxine coos lovingly while she straddles Malkovich. Lotte walks away from the experience convinced that she is meant to be a man. She tells Craig she is leaving him. She has a vague plan to try to stay inside Malkovich, but doesn’t seem to know how to accomplish this. All she knows is that she is in love with Maxine and is sure she was meant to be a man. Craig responds with violence. He gets a gun, attacks Lotte and locks her in one of the animal cages in their apartment. He then enters the portal to rendez-vous with Maxine. At first Maxine doesn’t realize that it is Craig inside Malkovich, but after several encounters, Lotte escapes from captivity and phones Maxine to tell her what’s been going on. Rather than reacting with admonition of Craig’s actions, Maxine is intrigued. Maxine has a choice to make. Will it be love or control? Maxine opts for control. Although she has feelings for Lotte, she is impressed with Craig’s control over the Malkovich body. Not only has he been able to stay inside the portal for longer and longer periods of time, he has also learned to make Malkovich move. The next time she meets with Malkovich, she knows Craig is inside and confronts him. In response Craig not only moves Malkovich the way he wants him to, he goes one step further by making him speak. It is at this point that Maxine and Craig decide that they will keep things this way forever. For Craig the benefit is that he now takes the form of a celebrity and can use that fame to further his puppeteering career. For Maxine, she controls Craig, who controls Malkovich, who has an inherent form of power as a celebrity. As the film progresses, Craig and Maxine live together as husband and wife. Craig parlays Malkovich’s fame into a revival of popularity of puppetry, while Maxine


19 gets to live a life of wealth and fame. Despite it all, Maxine is unhappy…and pregnant. In a twist of events, Maxine is kidnapped by Lotte and a group of elderly people who see the Malkovich portal as a passageway to everlasting life. For her safe return Craig promises to leave the Malkovich body. However, when he does, he finds that Maxine has decided to stay with Lotte. Her time spent with Craig/Malkovich seemed to teach her the value of love and the unimportance of physical appearance and gender. She admits to Lotte that the baby she's carrying is hers. She was impregnated while Lotte was inside Malkovich. The three stand at the side of the New Jersey turnpike, muddy and wet. Lotte and Maxine hitch a ride and drive off, stranding Craig at the side of the road. The film ends with Maxine, Lotte and their five-year old daughter poolside. The two women sit and laugh enjoying an ordinary day. Their daughter walks toward the pool and turns back to look at her two mothers. The women gaze back at their daughter. Then the camera takes the perspective as seen through the little girl's eyes. We hear Craig's voice as he pleads, "Look away, look away." We are lead to believe that somehow Craig has found a portal to the little girl, which gives us a completely new perspective on spectatorship. For the first time, a male character is gazing through the eyes of a female character. Craig’s words can be interpreted several ways. In the context of gendered spectatorship, I would argue that these words are meant to illustrate the concept of the gaze being rendered onto this young female child. As a man, Craig is not used to being gazed upon, or being an object “on display”. This new role is unsettling to him in his new skin. Summary and Discussion


20 This film is exceptionally rich in meaning, with several intriguing motifs. Although the ideas revolving around the cult of “celebrity” are well structured in this film, I chose to concentrate my analysis on the gendered spectatorship within the narrative of the film, as well as spectatorship as experienced by the viewing audience. Throughout this paper I have discussed several examples of gender identity issues and sex role stereotypes. Applying Bem’s concept of “gender schematicity” to this film one is able to discuss the idea that masculinity and femininity are merely the constructions of a cultural schema-or lens-that polarizes gender (Sandra Bem, 1995) The characters in this film, especially Craig, Maxine and Lotte, are all confined to certain expected categories of behavior due to societal pressures. Yet all three are really what might be considered “deviant” figures. Craig is certainly a man who exhibits some feminine qualities. For the better part of the movie he remains shy, soft-spoken, and (in a slightly warped way) romantic. He fancies himself an artist and an intellectual, living outside of the mainstream lifestyle in which people push themselves to better their careers and make more money. Craig is also not interested in having children, as we find out during a conversation he has with Lotte. It isn’t until he inhabits the body of Malkovich that Craig is truly “masculine” in his behavior. He is able to possess the gaze in a way he could not as “himself”. At some point, this masculinity seems to rob Craig of his senses. He makes a complete change, going from soft spoken and meek a gunwielding bully who locks his wife in a monkey cage. Perhaps this change in behavior can be attributed to the societal expectations that are thrust upon individuals do to their outward appearance and physicality.


21 Maxine is another character who goes against the grain of what would be considered a traditional gender role. Although she is an attractive woman who is the subject of several gazes, she certainly exhibits the ability to appropriate the gaze for her own agenda. She instigates action, but she is not passive. She controls the actions of others by suggesting to them what their next move should be. At the same time, she is also acting. For example, it is Maxine who decides to make the portal into a business venture. It is also Maxine who calls up Malkovich to ask for a date. She doesn’t wait for the man to make the move. Even in her interactions with Craig, it is she who instigates all the action in the “relationship”. She tells him where and when they will meet, and she is quite vocal as to her lack of feelings towards him. Lotte is perhaps the character that goes through the most dramatic transformation. As the film opens, she is obviously a woman looking for affection, as characterized by her relationship with her animals. She often refers to the animals as one would to their own children and goes so far as to diaper her chimp. She is soft spoken and never questions her husbands’ acts or opinions. Lotte definitely fits the mold of the “good wife”. She seems trapped in her less than fulfilling life, as well as being trapped in a body she is not happy or at peace with. When Lotte is allowed to inhabit the body of a man, she goes through a major transformation. Her whole demeanor changes. She is no longer the “good wife” who caters to her husband’s whims. Instead, she talks back to Craig and at one point goes so far as to scream at him, “Suck my dick!”. One has to explore the possibility that it is not just the physical experience of being inside the body of a male that brings about this change in Lotte. It seems that Lotte’s true nature is allowed to emerge. Emotions and


22 thoughts she’s had all her life are no longer seen as unladylike, as a man these same behaviors are viewed by society is totally acceptable in social situations and within interpersonal relationships. I believe that Being John Malkovich addresses issues of gendered spectatorship in a way few films before it have been able to. By literally placing male and female characters within bodies of the opposite sex, Jonze and Kaufman are able to truly illustrate the issues faced by spectators of film in terms of gender. Their storytelling allows a non-traditional spectatorship in which women do not have to identify with inert objects. Rather, the female characters are active. One is an active force unto herself, the other asserts her independence and ability to act through the use of a male shell. In closing, I feel this film challenges the audience to consider questions that are difficult to answer. Questions like, how do we define ourselves? How important is the physicality of sex and gender? When Maxine realizes she has feelings for Lotte, she cannot accept her in the physical form that she is in. Why do we place such importance on gender in our society? Being John Malkovich takes a step forward in allowing us to loosen the chains of societal “norms”, and perhaps, brings us closer to realizing that the sum of who we are as individuals is more than the sum or our body parts.


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