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A decade of stockholm syndrome: remembering Maxine Lund

Spike Jonze‘s 1999 film Being John Malkovich has been heralded as one of the most spiritually discordant films about profit,…

By Miné Salkin , in Feminist Film Reel , on January 15, 2009 Tags: , , , ,

Spike Jonze‘s 1999 film Being John Malkovich has been heralded as one of the most spiritually discordant films about profit, identity and greed.

It’s actually the story of a bad girl gone feminist, struggling to find meaning in a careless, Kafkaesque universe.

Craig Schwartz (John Cusack), a social misfit and self-proclaimed puppeteer finds a portal in an office building that leads to celebrity John Malkovich’s mind for 15 minutes. Just take a moment to fully grasp the metaphysical scope of such a discovery.

Another set of driving themes, however, are the principles of enslavement and stockholm syndrome, which are induced by the female antagonist, Maxine Lund. She’s the strongest, most manipulative female character in all of cinematic history, and she successfully controls all the men in her world.

Maxine Lund is the ultimate female predator.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to have two people look at you, with total lust and devotion, through the same pair of eyes?” She’s evil and narcissistic, but all she really wants is to be loved.

Maxine is played by Catherine Keener, the cruel, raven-haired beauty who represents the temptation and female manipulation in a male-driven environment. The two of them learn how to use Malkovich’s body for their own personal gain, charging $200 to people who want to be John Malkovich for 15 minutes.

Maxine Lund gets what she wants
Maxine Lund gets what she wants

While working together, Craig falls helplessly in love with her, who rejects him with little sympathy for his suffering. She tells him that “If you ever get me, you wouldn’t have a clue what to do with me.”

She breaks up Craig’s marriage. His wife, Lotte (played by Cameron Diaz) goes into the portal when Maxine is on a date with the real Malkovich, and they have sexual intercourse. Her sexual voracity now destroys a once solid relationship built on love, care, and principles of equality.

“Behind the stubble and the too-prominent brow and the male-pattern baldness… I sensed your feminine longing. And it just slew me,” she tells Lotte, proclaiming her now-bisexual inclinations. 

Propelled by their desire to be enslaved, Lotte and Craig are now fighting for Maxine’s love. Craig wins by becoming a prisoner in Malkovich’s body and the two move in together. Lotte becomes increasingly obsessed with Maxine and goes after her with a gun.

Standing beside the traffic at the New Jersey Turnpike, Maxine and Lotte reconcile and embrace in the muddy ditch, symbolizing the final gesture at something beautiful in the midst of urban and industrial alienation.

When Craig leaves Malkovich’s body, Maxine dumps him for Lotte. She has broken down two people in her pursuit of self-discovery, but now settles down with Lotte and the two are happy together as a lesbian couple.

Two people fall madly in love with her in this film. Lotte, Craig, and to some extent, even the real John Malkovich. Maxine dominates all the other characters in the same vein that stockholm syndrome takes hold in the captive – and this becomes literally true as the three of them become trapped in the body of John Malkovich.