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Being John Malkovich (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

At the tail-end of the 1990s, self-referential metacinema was revived by David Fincher's Fight Club (1999) and the psychological comedy Being John Malkovich (1999), prodigy Charlie Kaufman's first screenwriting effort in collaboration with director Spike Jonze. In retrospect, it may be easy to scrutinize the labyrinthine Kafkaesque absurdism in Malkovich as a microcosm of Kaufman's magnum opus, Synecdoche, New York (2008), or the literal 3D-printed puppets in the stop-motion Anomalisa (2015). But Kaufman's unmistakable vision arrived fully formed in this feature, which unites a surreal concept with a tender human story of love and gender. Kaufman distorts and transforms ideas of vicarious escapism and the celebrity crush into an intimately tortuous tale of self-identity that involves an out-of-work puppeteer, Craig Schwartz (John Cusack, the curious spitting image of David Foster Wallace), who secures a job as a file clerk on floor 7½ at LesterCorp. He immediately develops a fondness for his striking coworker Maxine (Catherine Keener), which goes unrequited. At the same time, Craig happens upon a secret door behind one of the company's filing cabinets that magically transports him directly into the first-person perspective of the titular character actor with the ability to sense everything Malkovich experiences... but only in 15-minute intervals. Unable to suppress this amazing discovery, he reveals the inexplicable portal to Maxine, and they devise a plan to charge others to use it. From here, the film's two narrative strands begin to entwine, thus embellishing the chaos inherent in both. The Madison Public Library's Cinesthesia series will be presenting a newly restored transfer via the Criterion Blu-ray edition at this screening. —Grant Phipps