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Agency Over Reality

by Sarah Scialli

This scene in Being John Malkovich illustrates the game-like nature of this film.  This documentary shows the future of John Malkovich while inhabited by Craig much in the same way as the photo stories in Run Lola Run do. In Run Lola Run, once Lola interacts with the character, the character’s future is impacted, and the audience sees a quick series of photos that depict this future. This documentary similarly goes through Malkovich’s future as impacted by Craig. Had Craig not decided to remain in Malkovich, Malkovich’s life would be considerably different. This is especially shown to the audience within the documentary by Malkovich’s switch from acting to being a puppeteer. And many of the additional choices Craig has made for Malkovich have affected the life Malkovich has led.

Craig’s agency over Malkovich parallels a game player and his or her avatar. While it is the avatar moving through the world and carrying out the choices, the player is the one choosing. In this case, the character of Malkovich has nearly become Craig entirely even in demeanor and physicality, because Craig has the agency to control Malkovich. Had this movie been structured in the same way as Run Lola Run, the audience might have been presented with the different possibilities of Malkovich’s life- perhaps the life that he would lead without being inhabited by Craig, or the life he might have led if he were inhabited permanently by Lotte instead.

What sets this film apart is also the meshing of reality and fiction. It is almost as if Malkovich the avatar lives in the “real world” while the other characters are part of the fictional world. This turns around our assumptions that an avatar is an extension of the player into the fictional world while the player is real. In this documentary, the lines of fiction and reality are blurred. The first half of the documentary prior to Craig’s involvement consists of real events in the real Malkovich’s life. After Craig is involved, the documentary becomes mostly fiction, but with some bits of reality coming in, like the interviews with real well known personas.  Thus, it is a kind of backwards game world, where the characters seem to play as reality. 

Malkovich TV documentary

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A parody TV celebrity profile fills in a narrative ellipse in Being John Malkovich

from Being John Malkovich (1999)
Creator: Spike Jonze
Posted by Critical Commons Manager
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