Being John Malkovich
A quintessential loser, an out-of-job puppeteer, is hired by a firm, whose offices are ensconced in the half floor (literally. The ceiling is all about a metre high, similar to Taniel’s hallucinatory Alice in Wonderland illustrations). By sheer accident, he discovers a tunnel (a “portal”, in Internet-age parlance), which sucks its visitors to the mind from the celebrated actor, John Malkovich. The movie is a tongue in cheek discourse of identity, gender and passion at a time of languid promiscuity. It poses all of the right metaphysical riddles and presses the viewers’ intellectual stimulation buttons.
A two line amount of dialogue, though, forms the axis on this nightmarishly chimerical film. John Malkovich (played by himself), enraged and bewildered with the unabashed commercial exploitation in the serendipitous portal to his mind, insists that Craig, the aforementioned puppet master, cease and desist regarding his activities. “It is MY brain” – he screams and, with a typical American finale, “I might find you in court”. Craig responds: “But, it had been I who discovered the portal. It is my livelihood”.
This apparently innocuous exchange disguises a number of very unsettling ethical dilemmas.
The basic question for you is “whose brain is it, anyway”? Does John Malkovich OWN his brain? Is one’s brain – one’s PROPERTY? Property is usually acquired somehow. Is our brain “acquired”? It is clear that people don’t get the hardware (neurones) and software (electrical and chemical pathways) were born with. But it really is equally clear we do “acquire” both brain mass along with the valuables in the brain (its wiring or irreversible chemical changes) through learning and experience. Does this technique of acquisition endow us with property rights?
It appears to be that property rights associated with human bodies are fairly restricted. We have no right to sell our kidneys, for example. Or to destroy the body with the use of drugs. Or to commit an abortion at will. Yet, regulations does recognize and strives to enforce copyrights, patents and other kinds of intellectual property rights.
ซีรี่ย์จีน is curious. For what is intellectual property but merely a record from the brain’s activities? A book, a painting, an invention would be the documentation and representation of brain waves. They are mere shadows, symbols of the real presence – our mind. How can we reconcile this contradiction? We are deemed from the law being able to holding full and unmitigated rights to the PRODUCTS individuals brain activity, towards the recording and documentation in our brain waves. But we hold only partial rights for the brain itself, their originator.
This can be somewhat understood if we were to consider this to be article, as an illustration. It is composed on the word processor. I don’t own full rights to the word processing software (simply a licence), nor is the laptop I use my property – but I posses which enable it to exercise and enforce full rights regarding this short article. Admittedly, it is really a partial parallel, at best: the pc and word processing software are passive elements. It is my brain that does the authoring. And so, the mystery remains: how do I own this article – however, not my brain? Why do I have the directly to ruin this article anytime – however, not to annihilate my brain at whim?
Another angle of philosophical attack would be to say that individuals rarely hold rights to nature in order to life. We can copyright a picture we take of a forest – and not the forest. To reduce it on the absurd: we can own a sunset captured on film – but never the phenomenon thus documented. The mental faculties are natural and life’s pivot – could this be why we cannot fully bought it?
Wrong premises inevitably lead to wrong conclusions. We often own natural objects and manifestations, including those associated with human life directly. We even issue patents for sequences of human DNA. And people do own forests and rivers as well as the specific views of sunsets.
Some scholars enhance the issues of exclusivity and scarcity because precursors of property rights. My brain may be accessed only without any help as well as is one of a kind (sui generis). True but not relevant. One cannot rigorously originate from these properties of our own brain a to deny others entry to them (should this become technologically feasible) – or perhaps to create a price on such granted access. In other words, exclusivity and scarcity usually do not constitute property rights as well as cause their establishment. Other rights could possibly be at play (the to privacy, as an example) – although not the right to own property and to derive economic benefits from such ownership.
On the contrary, it really is surprisingly simple to consider numerous exceptions to your purported natural right of single usage of one’s brain. If one memorized the formula to stop AIDS or cancer and refused to divulge it for any reasonable compensation – surely, we ought to feel entitled to invade his brain and extract it? Once such technology is accessible – shouldn’t authorized bodies of inspection have access towards the brains of our own leaders over a periodic basis? And shouldn’t we all gain visitation rights for the minds of great women and men of science, art and culture – as we do today gain usage of their properties and towards the products with their brains?
There is but one hidden assumption, though, in the movie and this article. It is that mind and brain is one. The portal results in John Malkovich’s MIND – yet, he keeps talking about his BRAIN and writhing physically on the watch’s screen. The portal is useless without JM’s mind. Indeed, one can possibly wonder whether JM’s thoughts are not an INTEGRAL part with the portal – structurally and functionally inseparable from it. If so, will not the discoverer in the portal hold equal rights to John Malkovich’s mind, part thereof?
The portal results in JM’s mind. Can we prove which it brings about his brain? Is this identity automatic? Of course not. It may be the old psychophysical question, the hub of dualism – still faraway from resolved. Can a MIND be copyrighted or patented? If no person knows WHAT is the mind – how do or not it’s the main topic of laws and rights? If JM is bothered with the portal voyagers, the intruders – he surely has legal recourse, however, not with the application from the rights to own property and benefit from that. These rights provide him with with no remedy because their subject (your brain) can be a mystery. Can JM sue Craig and the clientele for unauthorized visits to his mind (trespassing) – IF he is unaware of their comings and goings and unperturbed by them? Moreover, can he prove that the portal leads to HIS mind, that it can be HIS mind that’s being visited? Is there a approach to PROVE any particular one has visited another’s mind? (See: “On Empathy”).
And if property rights to one’s brain and mind were firmly established – how will telepathy (when proven) be treated legally? Or mind reading? The recording of dreams? Will a distinction be generated between only visit – along with the exercise of impact on the host and his / her manipulation (similar questions arise in time travel)?
This, precisely, is how the film crosses the fishing line between the intriguing as well as the macabre. The master puppeteer, unable to resist his urges, manipulates John Malkovich and lastly possesses him completely. This is so clearly wrong, so manifestly forbidden, so patently immoral, how the film loses its urgent ambivalence, its surrealistic moral landscape and deteriorates into another banal comedy of situations.