Philosophy of Mind in being John Malkevich

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At some point in our lives, we have wondered or even wished to be someone else due to multiple reasons to include wealth, fame, physical appearances, physical or mental abilities. The theme of this movies, ‘Being John Malkovich’ investigates cases of individual identity and the presence of a conscious mind. In this paper, I will discuss some of the topics of this movie in comparison to some of the philosopher’s theories we have studied.

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This movie, if it were real, would be evidence of Descartes interpretation of dualism, as it suggests that one’s mind could be transported into another, separated from its own body. According to the readings in Revel, Ryle criticizes this line of thought and states, “the ghost in the machine” metaphysics that has infiltrated every area of our culture, a view that makes no conceptual sense. The movie provides for many philosophical ideas concerning the metaphysical states; however, the plot of this movie is the problem Ryle and a few other philosophers had with dualism.

In the movie when people leave their bodies and enter into Malkovich’s mind signifying that their thoughts are fully functional and separated from their own body. In Revel, Spinoza advised that the mind and body are inseparable. Some materialism could interpret the portal to Malkovich’s mind as a tool or a material mechanism. They would argue that even though their mind is separated from their own body into Malkovich’s, the brain still needs a body to survive. Additionally, their own body is still alive, but trapped in another universe for the 15 minutes it is away from its mind. That body or a body needs to also survive, for when the soul returns to its home and dumps off on the turnpike. In the movie Dr. Lester uses the body as a “vessel body,” and when one body dies, his mind moves into another body, allowing him the ability to live forever.

Throughout the movie, two minds are inside of Malkovich’s body, one being Malkovich himself and whoever goes into the portal. Revel describes Ryle’s behavioral theory as being one’s mental state is the same as their physical state. The movie, however, shows one mind is allowed to observe a bodies behavior, but the other mind in the body can control the functions of the body. The movie will prove that if the mind is only observing the body that it does not need a body to survive.

This movie also shows conflicts with personal identity. From the reading in Revel of John Locke, from On Personal Identity, Locke explains that personal identities are a result of experiences or memories and not from physical properties. When Lotte enters the body of Malkovich, she enjoys new experiences of being a man, which confuse her when she returns to her body. Her identities are now conflicting one another as her experience being a man having sex with a woman was enjoyable, thus now confusing her sexuality in her mind, which was never in question before. The question then arises did her mental state from being in Malkovich’s body of a man change her thought process or was it merely the enjoyable memory or experience she had when she was in the man’s body. Locke is quoted in revel stating, “When we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate, or will anything, we know that we do so. Thus it is always as to our present sensations and perceptions: and by this everyone is to himself that which he calls self.” It is possible that the key word here is “present” which in the movie the recency of Lotte experience has overridden her past memories, which has caused her this confusion. Maybe it was the body that changed her feelings towards woman as she experiences different types of hormones men have that women do not have.

This movie along with the philosopher’s theories have got me thinking about the advancement of science, more specifically in the field of cryogenics. This is a bit off topic but has similarities to the movie. The famous baseball player, Ted Williams’ head is in cryopreservation in hopes that one day through scientific advances he will one day be revived. Only his head was preserved, so if this advancement actually occurred he would need “a” body or vessel of some sort to continue to live. He could potentially use a donor body. If that is the case, they could use the body of a male or female. Similar to the movie if he was in a female body would this change who Ted Williams was as he experiences new hormones and pleasures or would he want to change his sex back to being a man. If revived, we would also have to ask where has he been at all this time during his death.

This advancement in science would be dangerous to such a degree that people would begin playing God and having the potential to manipulate what human being is currently today. This could influence genetics in babies, and they would be designed rather than reproduced through natural birth. Being able to potentially create or manipulate life could come with severe consequences by having the inherent ability to control someone. Like in the movie, people that go into Malkovich mind, have some control over him and as they experience life in his mind more and more, they can control more of him including his body.

In closing, the mind must have a body to survive, but it may not have to be the body that the mind was born with. With today’s technology, there are numerous amounts of donor transplants for the vital organs of the body. If a brain was transplanted into another body, that brain would be the same as it was from the body it was removed from. Once the mind begins new experiences with the new body, positive or negative, that mind will still be them, but they may begin to think differently on how they once believed about something. I will conclude by stating, we humans as we stand today can have our minds changed through experience, so why would that change if we received a different body.

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Philosophy of mind in Being John Malkevich. (2020, Apr 05). Retrieved June 6, 2023 , from

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