The Perverse Cosmos of Being John Malkovich: Forms and Transformations of Narcissism in a Celebrity Culture

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Abstract:

When Craig, an oft-humiliated and unsuccessful street puppeteer, discovers a portal into the body of John Malkovich, he finds that fusion with a live “celebrity puppet” offers a solution to the dilemmas of being human— imperfection, vulnerability, and death. In this fantastical context, the filmmakers raise questions about intention, identity, authorship, and the wisdom of elevating narcissism over Eros. Although a desire to transcend the limitations of the mortal body may be ubiquitous, the unique solution offered in Being John Malkovich is the apparent triumph of this narcissistic fantasy, rather than an acceptance of reality. This article first explores the film's use of the universal imagery of narcissism and then examines how technology, which allows widespread access to a visually oriented media culture, and changes in the meaning of fame have altered the expression of narcissistic fantasies, as well as the anxieties that accompany their fulfillment.

Keywords: CELEBRITY; DOUBLES; FAME; IDEALIZATION; NARCISSISM; PERVERSION; PUPPETS; TWINSHIP

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/proj.2008.020103

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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