Being John Malkovich Explained (Plot And Ending)

Being John Malkovich is, to this day, one of the strangest, most surreal movie experiences ever. It explores the concepts of manipulation, infidelity, and obsessive love, through the lens of being able to possess the body of John Malkovich. Traveling through time might be a familiar movie theme but transporting your consciousness to another person’s body is entirely different. As weird as this concept sounds, the movie is far weirder. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie Being John Malkovich explained; spoilers ahead.

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Contents

Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Being John Malkovich: Plot Explained

Who is Dr Lester? What is his connection with Mertin?

Dr Lester is Mertin

Well, Mertin, the person who built the Mertin-Flemmer building with the portal, is someone who has been moving his friends’ and his consciousness from one body to another for generations. To conceal the portal he once found, he built the Mertin-Flemmer tower. Since the 1800s, he has been jumping from one body to the next. His latest possession is that of Dr Lester. His next target is John Malkovich, where he plans to take a whole bunch of his friends. Malkovich’s 44th birthday marks the ripest moment to transition to his body. This explains why he has a room that looks like a John Malkovich museum.

Who is John Malkovich?

Well, John Malkovich is the famous actor who once played a jewel thief. Yeah.

Craig And The Portal

An out-of-work puppeteer named Craig finds a job in the administration of a strange company located on a half-floor in a building on Wall Street. Behind a file cabinet, he finds a tunnel that allows him to become a famous actor John Malkovich for 15 minutes. During this time, he can feel what Malkovich feels and experience all of his senses.

The concept itself is left deliberately vague, probably with some magic involved. On a side note, the tunnel serves as a metaphor for the idea that all people’s minds are connected through perceptions, thoughts and experiences.

A New Business

Soon, Craig reveals this secret to a coworker he’s infatuated with, Maxine. They decide to capitalize on this idea and offer people a chance to be John Malkovich for 15 minutes for just $200. One of the first users of this commercial body-switch opportunity is Craig’s wife, Lotte, who develops a strong affection for Maxine herself.

Maxine and Lotte

Craig Maxine and Lotte in Being John Malkovich

Maxine is infatuated with Lotte too, but only when she is in Malkovich’s body. Because of Lotte’s possession, Malkovich feels compelled to meet with Maxine and is naturally attracted to her because she’s beautiful. Maxine and Lotte through Malkovich begin a bizarre relationship.

Craig and Maxine

Craig, who is now jealous of his wife, holds her at gunpoint and tricks Maxine into having sex with Malkovich when Craig possesses him. Because he’s a puppeteer by profession, Craig soon deduces how to control Malkovich and extend his control indefinitely. This also means that their business of renting out Malkovich’s mind can’t continue. Who needs that when they have access to Malkovich’s bank accounts?

John inside Malkovich

Earlier, when Malkovich still has a window of control, he follows Maxine and discovers they are making money off people being John Malkovich for 15 mins, so he enters his own mind. This scene is most extraordinary – everyone is Malkovich, and all they say is, “Malkovich”.

The Puppeteer Gets To Work

John Malkovich The Puppeteer

Craig takes complete control of Malkovich and begins a relationship with Maxine, who switches loyalties and ditches Lotte. Months pass, and Maxine is expecting a baby. Now, this baby was conceived when Maxine had sex with Malkovich when Lotte possessed him. Therefore Maxine sees this as Lotte’s baby – not Malkovich’s, not Craig’s.

Dr Lester’s Plan

Craig-Malkovich decides to ditch acting and take on mainstream puppeteering and sees enormous success. Dr Lester (Mertin) and friends have been waiting to take over John Malkovich’s body and need Criag to leave Malkovich. They kidnap Maxine and threaten Craig, who finally yields for her sake.

The Climax

Unfortunately for Craig, Maxine and Lotte reconcile and decide to raise the kid by themselves. Craig loses his fame via Malkovich, and he tries to reenter the portal, but because Malkovich’s daughter has already come into existence, Craig’s consciousness gets trapped in Maxine’s daughter.

Dr Lester and all of his friends successfully take over John Malkovich’s body and are later seen offering actor Charlie Sheen a spot in their next vessel, Maxine’s daughter.

Being John Malkovich: Ending Explained

Being John Malkovich Ending Explained

The ending of Being John Malkovich sees Lotte and reformed Maxine find love and raise Maxine’s baby together, the new vessel. However, John Malkovich and Craig’s consciousness is forever lost. Malkovich is trapped in his own body without any control, and Craig is trapped in Maxine’s daughter’s mind. It is finally revealed that Maxine [and Malkovich’s] daughter is marked as the next vessel and has 44 years to live before her mind is forever highjacked.

Being John Malkovich: Being Someone Else

Being able to live in the skin of John Malkovich is just a surrealist twist on the innate human desire to be someone else. Today, we can do this via video games and simulations, but the effect is still not the same. Being someone else, especially being famous, rich, and attractive, is the icing on the cake and why Malkovich was picked in the first place.

Whether something like this will be possible in the future? Well, anything is possible. The 80s film Brainstorm talks about the concept of experiencing the world through another person from a scientific angle. While walking through a tunnel is unlikely, Augmented Reality might be the tech which gets used, abstracting all the complex elements under the hood. A regular person might not know what is coaxial cable and how is it used, yet it doesn’t stop them from using high-speed internet. Strange Days is another film that played with this concept.

Actually, It’s Being You In Someone Else

A thing worth discussing is a sociological and anthropological aspect of someone else. The truth is that no one wants to be someone else. They want someone else’s looks, resources, fame, or courage while still being themselves.

  • No, you don’t want to be Brad Pitt; you want to be yourself in his body.
  • No, you don’t want to be Bill Gates; you want to be yourself with his resources.
  • No, you don’t want to be Mike Tyson; you want to be yourself with his fighting ability.

Ultimately, as soon as Craig hijacks Malkovich’s life, he pivots from acting to puppeteering. This is not something that John Malkovich would ever do, but it’s the first thing Craig would do if he were John Malkovich.

Being John Malkovich and Gender Identities

This 1999 film written by Charlie Kaufman explores Gender Identities and Gender Fluidity, although in a surreal manner. 

Lotte

Lotte, who appears to be happily married to Craig, experiences what it feels like to be in the body of a man when she enters the mind of Malkovich. Instantly, she concludes that she wants to be a man, and at the same time, she is smitten by Maxine.

Maxine

Maxine is also attracted to Lotte, but only when Lotte has possessed Malkovich. As she explains, “Do you have any idea what it’s like to have two people look at you with total lust and devotion through the same pair of eyes?” Maxine loves having sex with John Malkovich only when she believes Lotte is in his head. That said, Maxine [initially] doesn’t want a direct physical relationship with a woman.

Maxine’s desires are more of a fetish as she is unable to distinguish whether it is Lotte or Craig who occupies Malkovich; this is why Craig tricks Maxine. In reality, Maxine only cares for herself – she goes from being with a man with a woman’s mind to a man with another man’s mind and finally to a woman – whatever it takes to survive.

The Baby

Though the baby is Malkovich’s, as he was the one who had sex with Maxine, she claims the baby to be Lotte’s and not Craig’sWait, what? Poor Malkovich is just a vessel for every character in the film. Biologically, the baby is neither Craig’s nor Lotte’s just because they highjacked Malkovich’s body. But he gets the short end of the stick as his consciousness gets pushed back as Dr Lester (Mertin) and friends seize his mind. Despite what Lotte and Maxine believe, the daughter is Malkovich’s, and that gene makes her the next vessel for Dr Lester (Mertin).

Being John Malkovich: The Real Puppeteer

the real Puppeteer

One of the most fascinating aspects of the movie itself is discovering the real puppeteer. While Craig is the puppeteer by trade and, as such, capable of exerting a much higher level of control over Malkovich’s body, one could argue that the real puppeteer is, in fact, Maxine.

From the beginning, she’s the only character in the movie who knows about the tunnel and refuses to use it. Why? Well, because she doesn’t need it. She organizes a date between Lotte and Malkovich without entering a tunnel. Maxine controls the actions of Malkovich, Lotte and Craig through subterfuge and seduction.

When she first finds out about Craig’s level of control, she states the concept of controlling Craig while he controls Malkovich. When she makes him dance like a puppet (like a puppeteer would), she mentions that it feels like playing with humans (something she does all the time).

Even her “change of heart” at the end of the movie is in the shadow of an elaborate plot that the people behind “the system” could never come up with without her.

The bottom line is that there are people like Maxine who are puppeteering real live people without having to go through a magical tunnel or physically hold the strings. While Craig is made to represent a more villainous figure, it’s probably Maxine who’s the real instigator.

While Craig gets punished, Maxine gets to live happily ever after. Moreover, since her puppeteering ability is in no way connected to the tunnel or Malkovich, she probably gets to keep doing it for the rest of her days. That said, karma is on its way to get Maxine’s daughter in 44 years.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered

What is the point of Being John Malkovich? What is it really about?

The movie Being John Malkovich explores identity, reality, and the search for meaning in life. Through Craig Schwartz’s character and his experiences with the portal into John Malkovich’s mind, the film questions what it means to truly be oneself, the limitations and complexities of perception and the human condition. The movie also touches upon the desire for fame and the power dynamic between those who possess it and those who do not.

What is the message of Being John Malkovich?

There are many messages in Being John Malkovich, but the main issue is that your problems won’t go away if you were to be someone else. Even if that someone else is a rich, famous actor, the issues will still remain in some form or the other.

The Nature of Identity: The film explores the idea that our sense of self is constructed and influenced by our surroundings and experiences.

The Illusion of Control: The film suggests that our perception of control and agency is often an illusion and that we are at the mercy of forces beyond our understanding.

The Search for Meaning: The characters in the film are searching for a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives, but they are continually frustrated in their attempts to find it.

The Desire for Fame: The film comments on the desire for fame and how it shapes people’s lives and identities, especially when they skip over the hard work it takes to get there.

What was the inspiration for Being John Malkovich?

Originally, Kaufman was to make a movie about a man falling in love with someone who is not his wife. Then, he added a couple of notions that he found entertaining (7½ floor, Being John Malkovich, mind-control etc.). This way, the story evolved in the most unexpected of directions. Kaufman also drew upon his fascination with the nature of consciousness and the concept of people being able to enter and control others’ minds. It’s only natural that Kaufman went on to later write the screenplay for Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind which deals with memories and experiences that define a person.

Is Get Out a sequel to Being John Malkovich?

Connection Between Being John Malkovich And Get Out?

It is a fan theory that the movie Get Out occurs in the same universe as Being John Malkovich, with Catherine Kenner’s characters Maxine Lund and Missy Armitage being the link. Jordan Peele likes this theory, but it is only in retrospect. Calling it a direct sequel is far-fetched, but there is scope to extend this universe if Peele wants to but I think it’s best not done. Each of the films have a definitive conclusion and are independently fine pieces of work.

How did John Malkovich feel about Being John Malkovich?

The script was named Being John Malkovich from the early stages, and there was no other actor in the play. Flattered, Malkovich had no alternative than to accept. Even today, he’s proud of his role in the movie; I mean, how many actors can boast about their name in the title of the film?

Was Being John Malkovich written for him?

No, Being John Malkovich was not primarily written for John Malkovich. However, Malkovich was cast in the movie for the lead role, which is a fictionalized version of himself. The character’s name is also John Malkovich, which adds a layer of meta-commentary to the film’s themes of identity and reality. Malkovich’s performance in the film was well-received, and he has said that he was drawn to the project because of its original and unconventional story. That said, if Malkovich had refused the role, I think the film would have been canned.

Being John Malkovich: Conclusion

Being John Malkovich is an amazing cinematographic accomplishment. It uses surrealist settings and elements to explore human flaws and yearnings. As such, it’s more of a case study than a form of entertainment, and it’s an intellectually engaging dark comedy that is well worth a watch.

What are your thoughts on the plot and ending of Being John Malkovich explained? Do share your thoughts about the film in the comment section below.