A man crippled by the mundanity of life
Since the kickstarter page was set up all those years ago the wait for Charlie Kaufman’s next project has been agonizing, especially since he would be collaborating with stop-motion animator Duke Johnson and would not be going through the ordinary production process to bring his next film to light, and with such minimal support from producers its incredible what Kaufman has been able to achieve with his first feature in 8 years.
Anomalisa is a sensory, stop-motion animated story centered around author and specialist in customer services Michael Stone (David Thewlis). Michael is utterly disillusioned by the world and perceives his family and everyone else as the same being, leading him to believe that his voice is the only unique one in the world. This is until he meets one of his fans the night before a business intervention, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whose voice is the only one Michael has heard in a seemingly long time, that is other than Tom Noonan (who voices every single other character). The two spend the evening together leading to an affair of existential properties.
Just from that brief plot synopsis its obvious that this is another perplexing screenplay from Kaufman like many of his others, however it is in no way as convoluted as his last feature Synedoche, New York which was a brilliant yet overly ambitious epic. As always it is his writing that is the highlight of the film, it is very personal and feels as though Charlie is showing us a part of himself. But where Anomalisa really shines is the dialogue between Michael and Lisa which is frankly awe-inspiring. These scenes are so intricately written that it is easy to forget the words aren’t coming from the mouths of people, but puppets.
The stop-motion animation is expertly crafted by Duke Johnson who is best known for his animated Christmas special episode from the show Community. The extremely human-like puppets create a great sense of realism in this plastic world Michael lives in. These puppets also have retractable faces where there is a visible cut off line which is strange seen as though the puppets look so realistic, however Johnson uses this element to display visual metaphors at certain points in the film.
Its rare to see such mature themes in an animated feature because typically they are directed at younger audiences, although after Anomalisa’s critical success we may see more daring animated films coming into being as the animation can open up a whole lot of doors in regards to possibilities unavailable in live action movies. A film with many similarities to Anomalisa is an Australian stop-motion animated feature called Mary and Max, its plot revolves around two pen pals dealing with issues such as obesity, depression and social obscurity, and similarly to Anomalisa has a faint sense of comedy throughout.
The fact that Michael Stone see’s everyone as the same person is open to interpretation. I believe that Michael is a product of his own endeavors. He is famous for his motivational speeches because of his vast knowledge on customer services, and it is through this that he is so detached from reality. He perceives everyone as the same being because he treats everyone as so, his step by step guidelines in communicating with people are the reasons he has trouble connecting with others further than the surface level.
Michael’s relationship with Lisa is rather unusual. His obsession with her almost becomes predatory as Lisa is so bewildered by the attention Michael is giving her that he uses this to his advantage to sleep with her. As beautiful as the romance and dialogue is Michael’s ethics really do come into question, not to mention that he has a wife and child at home. All of this however is put into perspective in a very “fleshed out” sex scene between the two, not in the same sort way as the notorious sex scene in team America, but a graceful and deep rendition of two people experiencing each other sexually for the first time.
In terms of negatives there were a few scenes that didn’t exactly work; one of which included a scene in where Michael drunkenly ponders into a sex toy shop which leads to a throw away gag at the end of the film. However, because of the process that these filmmakers underwent to make sure this film was 100% their unique image and wanted no production company intervention it is understandable that scenes like this would exist.
Never have I seen a more human film than Anomalisa, yet it includes no real life people and only three voice actors. Its surreal beauty never for one second over shadows the emotional subject matter, and is so subtly perfect that I believe it to be a melancholic masterpiece.