Cinema Sutra: Being John Malkovich

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Cinema Sutra: Being John Malkovich

The Movie: Unlike many of the films I’ve featured so far, Being John Malkovich is shockingly intricate and inventive. John Cusack takes a position at a crap job and ends up working on the seventh-and-a-half floor (which is half-height too). While there, he finds a door behind a filing cabinet that allows him to slide down into John Malkovich’s mind. Yep, that’s where it goes. Then he gets to stay there for a bit, experiencing things through Malkovich’s senses, before eventually being ejected onto the side of the New Jersey turnpike.

From there pretty much everything happens that you’d expect after finding a portal into a famous person’s mind. What, doesn’t sound like your normal Hollywood plotline?

The Scene: I admit to having fantasized about Cameron Diaz during sex, but it didn’t exactly go like this. In the film Diaz plays Cusack’s wife Lotte (never made to look worse), who develops a (reciprocated) crush on his coworker, Catherine Keener — whom Cusack also lusts over and told about the portal. Keener seduces Malkovich but only so that she can have sex with Diaz once she’s slid into Malkovich’s mind. Mid-romp, Keener calls out, “Lotte, Lotte,” and we hear Diaz (in Malkovich’s voice) telling him what to do with his hands. Then Malkovich calls out in pleasure, half in his own voice, half in Diaz’s. If it sounds weird, well…

What you need: Assuming you can’t find a portal that allows the person you’re fantasizing about to slide into the brain of the person you’re having sex with, you’ll just have to use your imagination.

The mechanics: This article cites a British study that says that about ninety percent of people often think about someone else during sex with their partners. So apparently it isn’t that hard. The question is: is it okay?  

Lesson we learn: Cory Silverberg, a sex educator and “sexuality guide” for, says: “People always wonder if it’s okay to fantasize about someone other than their partner. Well, of course it is — fantasy isn’t the same as real life. Besides, if you squelch your fantasies, you’ll just create problems. So fantasize about having sex with a thousand different people if you want. Just don’t actually have sex with them.”

Interestingly, in the article where I found that quote, the author, Ky Henderson (a Cosmo editor), disagrees, saying that “fantasizing shouldn’t involve taking yourself to another place mentally while you’re having sex. You should always try to stay in the moment with your partner.”

To me the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Henderson’s point is well-taken: you should always try to stay with your partner. But clearly if most people drift off during the sweet dance ( says that “survey research indicates that anywhere from sixty to ninety percent of women and men have sexual fantasies during intercourse”), it’s not enough to just say we shouldn’t do it. There needs to be a when, where, with whom, and how.

I’ve thought about other women while having sex both with women I’ve loved, and with women that I probably shouldn’t have been shtupping. I’m not proud of it; given a more perfect world, I’d remain utterly fixated on my partner every second that we were together. And the truth is: most of the time I am — that’s why we’re together. But when my imagination has drifted, I think it’s because at that moment, the hotness of the sex is triggering thoughts of something else that — that day or week — had caused a spike on my erotic EKG. I don’t think it counts as cheating if, for example, mid-nookie I suddenly think about the ex-girlfriend I got an email from out of the blue, or the hot CEO that came to our board meeting. No matter how much we love someone and are attracted to them, there are times in a relationship when someone else can temporarily captivate us a little more. And part of what makes me think of that other person is the joy and arousal of the actual sex with my partner. I’m sure there are people who fantasize during sex to try to make it better; for me, though, I sometimes do it because the sex feels good, and I’m imagining having that good feeling with yet another person.

I don’t do this often, and my guess is that if you do — or if you’re using fantasy to try to revitalize your sex life — you might be with the wrong partner. But if you really like or love who you’re with, and you know they turn you on, then it’s no great breach if someone else pops into your head now and then. We should strive to connect to them as much as possible, but not beat ourselves up or think it’s cheating if occasionally we invite some imaginary guests to the party. And remember, fantasy is a good thing. As Silverberg says, “A healthy sexual fantasy life goes hand in hand with a healthy overall sex life. People who have sexual fantasies are more likely to be sexually satisfied, and they even have more sex.”

Click here to read — and learn — more in Nerve’s Hollywood Sex Scene Database.