In the beginning of the film, Craig is living in the Imaginary, spending hours with his art. Lotte suggests to him that he should go out and find a real job, which he does at Lester Corp. But the Imaginary that Craig lives in is stable compared to the “real” world, or the Symbolic, where everything is seemingly off or strange. His apartment is filled with animals; the office where he works is on the 7 ½ floor, situated between the 7th and 8th floors with low ceilings; the people that he is surrounded by are all a little off, but perceive themselves as normal. When he enters into the portal, he once again enters into the Imaginary, finding that he prefers the stability and order of the Imaginary to the Symbolic. This is symbolic of films and the pleasure of going to see films. The real world that we live in is chaotic and strange, causing people to feel out of place. When we step into the cinema (through the “portal”) we enter into the Imaginary created by films. There is a pleasurable aspect in going to the movies, in the escapism of believing that the Imaginary is more “real” than the real world.
Malkovich is a stand-in for the cinematic apparatus, and also for the object of fetishization. Casting an actor to play himself was a choice made by the filmmakers that plays into the self-aware nature of the film. It would have been simple to allow the portal to go into any average person, but since the film is an attempt to form a narrative around screen theory, it was necessary to cast someone like John Malkovich. The portal itself is symbolic of...
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...e experience: $200 for fifteen minutes inside of John Malkovich’s mind. The first customer tries to explain why he would want to be someone else, but Maxine cuts him off, uninterested in what he has to say. As the word of J.M. Inc. spreads, the line slowly begins to get larger and larger. People will pay good money to “be all that someone else can be.” And this is ultimately how the movie industry works in relation to the spectator. In the end, movies are a business that lures the spectator in with promises of voyeurism and escape from the Symbolic into the Imaginary, for a price. People will line up for the premier of a new movie just like people will line up to experience Malkovich. In the end the whole experience and anything profound that we might take away from it, as Craig says to Lotte, “[is] just the thrill of seeing through someone else’s eyes. It’ll pass.”
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