Imagine for a moment that it’s 1999, and the whole world has a direct portal into the mind of Bill Clinton. The idea would be dismissed as ridiculous, of course – science fiction, or perhaps if you were Monica Lewinsky, vindication. And yet, 20 years later, the entire planet has a portal into the mind of Donald Trump, as the 45th president of the United States uses Twitter to respond immediately to anything and everything.
While working in this Kafka-meets-Lewis Carroll environment, Craig discovers a portal that leads directly into the head of John Malkovich – experiencing 15 minutes of the actor’s life before being dumped unceremoniously on the verge of the New Jersey Turnpike.
Being John Malkovich, the movie debut of director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman, was given its full release in US cinemas. The film stars John Cusack as Craig, a greasy-haired, unemployed puppeteer whose dishevelled, pet-obsessed wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz, unrecognisable from her breakthrough role as blonde bombshell Tina in The Mask a few years earlier) encourages him to take a filing job at a strange corporation. In a classic display of Kaufman absurdity, it operates halfway between an office block’s seventh and eighth floors; employees need to crowbar the lift doors to get out, then walk about bent double because the ceilings are so low.
“I think it’s about the need to escape yourself for 15 minutes that everyone feels,” Malkovich told the New York Times in 1999. “But what it’s really about is something more sinister. It’s the idea that we now lead virtual lives. We live our joys and sorrows and foibles through the lives of public people.” And that was two decades ago, seven years before Twitter launched and Facebook began collecting our memories.
“While it’s as uproarious now as it ever was,” a reviewer, Scott Tobias, wrote on the film’s American DVD re-release in 2012: “The film’s themes about identity and desire have only deepened with time, as the internet has grown into a place where personae are fluid and sometimes false, and the fantasy of accessing the minds of celebrities – or anyone’s mind, for that matter – is just a Twitter feed away.”