I Knew Who I Was

I really wanted to like this film and I did. Being John Malkovich is one of the better films I have ever seen. The way it is filmed, the sets, the lighting, the dialogue and the psychological elements all intertwine and create a world of fantasy where two hundreds dollars, or extreme desire, buys an individual power, intrusive, voyeuristic power. Because of the films glimpse into depths of the human psyche, it a tremendous success. With that being said, I would have liked to have had more background information on Dr. Lester/ Captain Mertin and his discovery of the portal, and more about the physics behind the portal, but that is just the nerd in me. However, one element stuck out through-out the film. Every character possesses a lack and fills that lack with something and most of their solutions are grounded in John Malkovich.

I am not a huge fan of Jacques Lacan; I am more of a Judith Butler, Adrienne Rich kind of guy. However, when Lotte Schwartz uttered, “John Malkovich has a portal, y’know, sort of like, it’s like, like he has a vagina,” I began to think in phallic terms, and how could I not? Craig, Lotte, Lester, Maxine, and John (the most “innocent” of the lot) chase and crave a power that can fill their lack. I don’t know what Craig’s lack is exactly (it could be simply a lack of control) and neither does he, but he certainly has a way to fill his lack with Maxine and she fills hers with Lotte and Lotte fills hers with Maxine and John fills his with Maxine and Lester uses John. What I am getting at is everyone uses everyone to fill a void or fear or lack. The vaginal quote creates an opening where all those who enter into the portal of John can be seen as possessing a phallus (as much as I hate the term it seems appropriate) that literally penetrates an unwilling  subject (John being unwilling, because he cannot consent), which grants the holder of the phallus power. Of course, everyone is a puppeteer and wants to be someone else, but it is so much more than just being someone else or seeing the world through another person’s skin. The characters seek out to be someone else and control someone, because they desire to fill their lack and the power of entering John grants them the power of the phallus and the desire to fill the lack is fulfilled, especially in the case of Lotte. Lotte becomes “male” and impregnates Maxine completely fulfilling the female desire to possess the phallus (a symbol of power, which males typically possess). Now this is my biggest problem with the film. It is as if Charlie Kaufman subscribes to the ideals and beliefs of Lacan. The desires of the character’s are extremely phallocentric and their lacks can only be filled by a male vessel. Lotte’s desire, or lack, is to be male, which is a typical psychoanalytic view of females. Originally, Lotte cannot derive power from being a strong lesbian figure. She only obtains power by possessing the phallus (the male symbol of power). Eventually, she accepts her lesbian existence, but, in the terms of the film, only because she obtained the male power and performed a double penetration into to John and then using John to enter Maxine. Her lack no longer exists, because she obtained the phallus.

In a post-modern world the phallus should no longer exist. The power structures of our patriarchal society should no longer exist. The film would have been more effective had the vessel for obtaining power had been a female and the female represented power. However, even then it would be hard to stay away from the imagery of penetration, but it is possible. I realize the film believes it is a progressive film (and yes I mean film not the filmmakers) and I am sure others do as well, but as we progress in society it seems that the typical labels and structures of the past are meaningless. We all exist in a nameless, unconceptualizable realm. We are the vastness of nothing. We are unplottable plots. Therefore, films that acknowledge the structures of the past only serve to perpetuate them. There does not need to be a creation of a new language or structures just a rejection of the old and an acknowledgment of ambiguity. “I knew who I was” is a false statement. None of us can ever utter that statement in earnest. We are ambiguous citizens in a world of nothing that encompasses all.

  1. Quite an appropriately loopy exploration of the film, Kris!

  2. Kris,
    This is a long blog for this film.
    Took a while to read.
    Interesting turns you took in your writings
    Had a little trouble keeping up, but that’s
    just me your faithful reader
    you’re writing is still great

    jonny rose

    • Matthew Womble
    • March 3rd, 2011

    Interesting. A few thoughts/comments. First, I am wondering how exactly John also seeks to “fill a void.” How do his sexual encounters with Maxine qualify in the Lacan category? Is Malkovich on the same plane as the other characters, or is he different? What about Maxine? Also, your phallocentric take on the movie makes a lot of sense with Malkovich as the portal, but what do you make of the fact that the new portal at the end of the movie is female? If there was a sequel entitled Being Lotte and Maxine’s Daughter, how would the act of entering the portal, or penetration, change in relation to the desires of the enterers? Nice thoughts.

  3. You might want to read Judith Butler on the lesbian phallus too.


  1. March 3rd, 2011
  2. March 3rd, 2011
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