Applying Dualism to the movie Being John Malkovich


Movie: Being John Malkovich

            In the movie Being John Malkovich many philosophical ideas and topics are brought forth concerning the metaphysical states. The plot of the movie examines cases of personal identity and the existence of a conscientious mind.  John Cusack plays a puppeteer who finds a portal into John Malkovich’s head for fifteen minutes. Cusack’s character starts a racket selling tickets to this out of body, or into another body experience. If we imagined that this idea was not something out of science fiction, we could distinguish between arguments that hold water and those that don’t.

            For all of the fans of dualism, this movie stirs up the notion that a consciousness exists and can be placed into another body. The idea of a portal allowing one mind to enter another allows for the mind of one body to be extracted or completely isolated from its own body while it resides inside Malkovich’s body. This would be a direct example of the kind of dualism that Descartes suggest. However, according to the philosophers like Spinoza, Ryle, and Putnam, the mind is not separate from the body and actually depends upon the body for its existence. In the movie, people are allowed to enter Malkovich’s mind without taking their body with them, suggesting that their mind is fully functional in a conscious state without the use of their body. This would argue against Spinoza’s suggestion that the body and mind are inseparable.

            The sole foundation for the plot of this movie heavily relies on one of the problems that Spinoza, Ryle, and Putnam had with dualism, that being the problem of other minds being external. If one’s mind was external and completely separate from the body then there would be a problem with other external minds which is the exact plot of this movie. If the movie was a true story then it would be a strong case for dualism but philosophers who still wanted to believe in monism or materialism could always argue that the portal is just a material mechanism. And even though there are some supernatural forces taking place with how John Malkovich is tied or belongs to the portal there is still a mind for every body, one’s body and mind is just in the portal and getting to experience Malkovich’s reality. Materialists could say that each mind and body are still staying connected and are completely dependent upon one another. In the movie, many minds or different people enter Malkovich’s mind but after fifteen minutes their body and mind are both dumped onto a turnpike. Even when, these people’s minds are separated from their own bodies for fifteen minutes, they still need Malkovich’s body to exist. This means a mind needs a body at least. To search even further into another philosophy brought forth by Gilbert Ryle called behaviorism, we can examine the idea of two minds in one body and what that means to his argument. Behaviorism suggests that one’s mental state is as exactly as its physical state, but in the movie one mind is allowed to observe the behaviors of the body while the other controls them. If one mind is allowed to observe, this would mean that it is not dependent upon the body’s behavior at all. In any case, it would be a tough argument for monism, materialism, or behaviorism given the circumstances of the events in this movie and its supernatural phenomena that strongly favor dualism. 

            Another aspect in the movie is the issue of personal identity. The philosopher John Locke argued that one’s personal identity is derived from their memories and not from their physical properties. In the movie, Cusack’s wife struggles with her personal identity immediately after experiencing Malkovich’s mind and body. She said she wanted to have a sex change. By having her mental state experience another body, in this case a male body, her personal identity has been entirely rearranged to the point of wanting to become a male. This would have a conflicting argument both for and against Locke’s theory that the mental state only relies upon memory. One side of the argument could be that her mind has experienced another body, and that it was the body of Malkovich that has altered her personal identity. The other side of the argument could be that her mental state was the part of her that experienced Malkovich’s body and that it was not her own body that has changed her. It is simply her new memory gained from her own mental state and the change in personal identity had nothing to do with her “own” physical properties.

            We can see how “Being John Malkovich” could alter how we think about our mind and body and even how we account for our own personal identity. The biggest revelation brought forth by the movie is the phenomenon of the supernatural portal discovered by Cusack’s character. This portal is the sole device that allows the consciousness to experience another realm or existence inside another’s mind. Without any true portal in reality we are left to ponder whether our minds can escape our bodies or if they are completely dependent on them. Without such a portal, we can only debate whether we would be a different person in another body or even better, whether our minds can be separated and live long after our bodies have died.