John Cusack and DFW

[x-posted at The Rumpus]

On Friday night, and in preparation for Where the Wild Things Are, I rewatched Spike Jonze’s first feature, Being John Malkovich. What struck me was not the film’s final childlike shots or how its puppet shows anticipate both Christopher Walken and those expensive, “absurdly heavy” monster suits, but something else—namely how goddamn much John Cusack looked like David Foster Wallace.

In the film, Cusack plays a character named Craig Schwartz, and, to me, at least, he bears an uncanny resemblance to DFW circa Charlie Rose. I can’t find a good image of Cusack-as-Schwartz online, but you’ll have to trust me. Both men sport the same long, thick, unmanaged hair; the same weak, stubbly jaw; the same tight white shirt and skinny red tie; the same unhip round glasses; and even some of the same facial tics (especially once Cusack discovers “the portal”).

Wallace recently got his own film treatment—for the titular sections of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, adapted and directed by Office-ite John Krasinski—and, thanks to it, we can connect these dots. Krasinski to Dave Eggers (Away We Go), Eggers to Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are), Jonze to Cusack—no Kevin Bacon needed![1] But I’m starting to sound far more glib than I felt after finishing Being John Malkovich. In fact, for me, the Wallace/Cusack effect quickly went from oddly creepy to kind of sad. But then I decided to rewatch that Rose interview, where guest and host meander through A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Strangely, the real dead person cheered me up where the silly doppelganger got me down. And I think that’s because the lo-fi Wallace interview stands as a better piece of visual entertainment than Being John Malkovich or Where the Wild Things Are or just about anything else—and that’s because of what Wallace says.

Watch that interview. Read the collection’s essay on television and contemporary fiction. Cipher on the ghostly parallel to Cusack (the trailer’s here). Just remember that DFW’s body of work lives on, and that it’s a little less bitter on each return.


[1] Being John Malkovich‘s original script did call for Bacon to play one of Malkovich’s friends.


5 thoughts on “John Cusack and DFW

  1. I just watched the movie for the first time today, and the moment I saw the puppeteer, I thought for sure it was DFW. I quickly found out it was Cusack, but jeez, with long hair and the scruffy beard he’s pretty much Wallace’s doppleganger.

    I’m wondering why Cusack got you down so much…

  2. The Kevin Bacon mention is fittingly meta-relevant: In the original script, the “Charlie Sheen” character – that is, Sheen playing himself – was originally written as “Kevin Bacon” or supposed to be Bacon playing himself.

    Sidenote: Wouldn’t “Bacon Playing Himself” be the perfect name for a meta one man show on Broadway featuring Kevin Bacon about Kevin Bacon playing a game of one-on-one basketball against himself (or an actor with whom he has no connection via the 6 degrees) wherein he discusses how he fits in the cultural lexicon?

    Just a thought.

  3. I knew DFW relatively well and I remember thinking this when I finally saw the film too. I love watching the Charlie Rose interview. It really captures In my opinion, what it was like to sit and have a conversation with him.

  4. I’d also like to point out the similarities between the film and Wallace’s Infinite Jest, the catatonic hero, becoming others (the Wraith), seeing people from their own perspective…. As well as the similarity of the film’s penultimate scene, the line of elderly people being reborn into Malkovich, and Wallace’s first novel, the Broom of the System, which ends with a group of elderly people…crawling into a tunnel the temperature of the human body….

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