The demented ''Being John Malkovich'' gets a stellar Criterion upgrade

By Keith Staskiewicz
Updated May 11, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Consciousness is a terrible curse,” John Cusack’s character bemoans to a chimpanzee in Being John Malkovich (1999, R, 1 hr., 53 mins.), the strange fish of a film that first opened a portal into the tumultuously recursive mind of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman — and is now getting a well-deserved Criterion treatment. That line could serve as Kaufman’s mission statement: He writes about men who are trapped in their own minds, either literally, as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or through some metaphorical, metaphysical, meta-everything framework like Adaptation or Synecdoche, New York. Cusack’s Craig Schwartz is a professionally and emotionally frustrated puppeteer who discovers an escape route into the headspace of actor John Malko-vich. The still boyish-faced Cusack sports a ponytail, a patchy five o’clock shadow, and a hollowed-out expression that suggests he aged all 14 years since The Sure Thing in one day. He, like costar Catherine Keener and director Spike Jonze, does some of his best work here, and Being John Malkovich is much more than a primer on a writer’s pet themes. It’s a delightfully absurdist, occasionally off-putting masterpiece of existential voyeurism that runs on its own off-brand logic. Even 13 years later, it still feels as if the film sprang fully formed from Kaufman’s mind only to take the back door into ours. The EXTRAS are a rabbit hole of their own. There’s a new behind-the-scenes documentary, a dialogue between Malkovich and funnyman-slash-fan John Hodgman, and a commentary track not from Jonze but from frequent Kaufman collaborator Michel Gondry (who directed Eternal Sunshine). It offers viewers exactly what everyone in the film is searching for: a different perspective. A

Being John Malkovich

  • Movie
  • R
  • 112 minutes
  • Spike Jonze