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The film being John Malkovich is one that begs for viewer to question what

personal identity is actually composed of, and opens the metaphysical can of worms

mentioned by Craig during the movie. This essay will act as a defense to the fact that

John Malkovich is the only person who truly understands what it means to be John

Malkovich. First I will discuss the meaning of personal identity and the self, which are

key in understanding my thesis. This leads me into the examples provided by the movie

followed by the proof they provide to support the fact that only John Malkovich can be

John Malkovich, in the same way any one person can only be themselves.


Personal identity, what it means to be you, may be seen by some in such ways as what

you look like, what your name is, how many years you have been on the planet earth, but

is it? Everyone has a set of eyes, ears and a nose, legs fingers and toes, which on the

surface may be different in appearance, but in reality perform the same in basic function.

So is this even close to the meaning of personal identity? In fact this is a very shallow

view, rather personal identity is based on your experiences in life, the memories you

have, what you are passionate about, and your deep-rooted values and convictions. This

is the structure for which your life is built on. This is the meaning of what your personal

identity is truly composed of. The idea of ones Self is based on the same idea as I have

laid out in the discussion of personal identity, it is to have the experiences and episodic

memory that only you share with your self. The Self is what generates personal identity

in humans. This means that your own personal identity and self can never be portrayed or
even grasped by another being, as they will never be able to have the same memories and

experiences you have from your point of view in the world.


In the film, Craig and Maxine offer people the chance to be someone else. What they

are actually offering people is far from that. The experience the customers have is only

that of a brief period of time where they can hear what is going on around Malkovich, see

through his eyes and possibly feel the same bodily sensations he is having. This is not

even close to actually being John Malkovich. When Craig enters the body of Malkovich

the experience he has is different, though he is still not John Malkovich. When Craig has

enough experience inside Malkovich he has the power to suppress Malkovich, take over

his body and function it using his own thoughts. Still, the mind of Malkovich can be seen

through outbursts, due to a lack of control by Craig. As the film progresses as Craig gains

complete control of the body of Malkovich but it is apparent that Craigs mind still

remains the same. Craigs passion for puppeteering is one example of how Craig remains

himself as well as how he refers to Malkovich in the third-person. Even Craig knows he

is still Craig. The last example that proves why Malkovich is the only one who can be

Malkovich can be viewed when Craig leaves his body and returns to his own. In this

scene Malkovichs personality returns to his body and is free while, Craig gets shot out

onto the turnpike with all the memories (which are his own) of being in the Malkovich


Some may argue that the experiences of Craig and the customers of Craig and Maxine, is

that of Being John Malkovich but this in fact is false. The customers have only the

opportunity to see what Malkovich sees and hear what he hears. If we refer back to my

statement on the definition of personal identity, it becomes clear that only being able to

see and hear what Malkovich does, does not make someone else Malkovich. In order to

truly be Malkovich you must have had the same experiences he has had in the past, share

the same memories as him, and have the same beliefs and perspective on the world he

does. Neither Craig nor the customers have this experience, as it becomes apparent that

they maintain their own mindset while in Malkovichs body and do not become endowed

with his past experiences or the ones he has when they leave, which is truly the basis of

Malkovichs Self. Their own personal identity does not change while inside Malkovich

and neither does that of Malkovich.


The points stated above have proven that although others are able to occupy the body of

John Malkovich, they are ironically only acting out the part of an actor in the public eye.

Malkovichs body remains a mere puppet to Craig who was able to suppress the true

Malkovich for so long. The proof I have provided is sufficient to lay to rest that personal

identity is not something which is carried in a body or image but rather inside the Mind

and always will remain that way.