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Who Would You Be When You're Not Being John Malkovich?

By Samantha Wilson | Think Pieces | April 1, 2014 |

By Samantha Wilson | Think Pieces | April 1, 2014 |

The body swap genre hit its peak with Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, a film that did not necessitate wishing on stars or casting magic spells to transform into another person, but rather set up a forceful and invasive takeover of a person’s body and mind through somewhat realistic means. Well, as realistic as you can get when a portal is involved.

But what happens when John Cusack’s sad sack puppeteer and Catherine Keener’s conniving opportunist come out the other side is that they’re controlling the every move of a celebrity; they’re not just stepping into the mind of Malkovich when they enter that strange and slimy portal, but rather embodying everything it means to be the man himself.

Craig (Cusack) and Maxine’s (Keener) little moneymaking scheme - charging $200 a pop for a ride that took you through a tunnel into their office building to 15 blissful, transcendent minutes into the mind of revered actor John Malkovich, and then dropped you off at the New Jersey Turnpike afterward - became so much more than a gimmick when their chance to profit off of inhabiting the actor’s skull became compromised by their own victim.

While the film has been spent focusing on those who slip into Malkovich’s mind for brief glimpses of a new life, frequently including Craig’s wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz), who experiences a sexual awakening after her first trip down the tunnel and becomes obsessed with her husband’s partner, it takes a more sinister turn when the duo decides to keep Malkovich inhabited for good. It’s at this point that the true body swap happens; though John is somewhere inside himself fighting for control, puppet master Craig has the ability to slip into his body and stay for as long as he wants, controlling him like one of his handcrafted dolls.

Together, and with Malkovich, they take Hollywood by storm as they realize that you don’t need to pay your dues or try to get your foot in the door when you’re already (technically) a world-famous actor. Malkovich’s notoriety and wealth make it easy for them to change his ambitions into their own; suddenly his puppetry is the most innovative entertainment the world has ever seen, while the man supposedly helming the project is the biggest accomplishment of them all. By stepping into his body, Craig controls Malkovich’s movements and words and thoughts like a life-size puppet, becoming him from the inside out and living his life in the most invasive way.

The film is somewhat of a cautionary tale in that the act of being John Malkovich didn’t really get people what they wanted out of life, with the exception of Lotte. Craig still wakes up at the Turnpike, greasy and alone, desperate for a woman who doesn’t give two damns. But to Craig, being John Malkovich was everything. Was it really Malkovich that was special to this formula, or could any notable actor be given a portal in a beat-up office building for regular folks to get their 15-minute fills?

Could it be Being Nicolas Cage, for example? Would body swapping with the foremost expert in whisper screaming lead to the same existential awakening for sad patrons like it did for those repeat customers coming to live the life of Malkovich?

In a typical session, a user would see the actor going about his daily routine - eating toast, taking a cab, rehearsing for a Shakespearean play and answering questions about being a famous actor to curious passersby. A trip into the Cage tunnel would probably prove to be more of a rollercoaster ride of emotions and events; there is a more than likely chance that he practices some form of martial arts first thing in the morning, then throws water in his face while staring, unblinking in the mirror and screaming.

Being Matthew McConaughey would be the chillest, most inspired portal full of love and light and good vibes. If you’ve ever wanted in on one of those naked bongo sessions, this is probably your chance. This is probably the best and only way to figure out what’s happening with True Detective season 2, in the hopes that he gets a call from Woody Harrelson during your session.

A body swap with Tilda Swinton would probably be the most fulfilling experience of them all, if just to figure out what it is that she does every day. Being Tilda Swinton, if the parody twitter account was on point, involves much basking in the light of the sun goddess and feasting on the life energy of those around her. Fifteen minutes in her mind could give you all the secrets to the universe. Use them wisely. Like Swinton would.

Maybe it was Malkovich who was necessary for this portal to happen. Maybe Rob Lowe is being controlled by a sad puppeteer right now. But it’s a strange and frightening concept to think about, what you would experience, and who you could be, if you could swap places with an actor for just those 15 minutes. Don’t get weird about it. Or get weird about it. Either way, who would you choose?

Samantha Wilson is a featured contributor for Pajiba.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.