ANOMALISA [2015]

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Directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman

Written by Charlie Kaufman

Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan


Anomalisa is a strange, beautiful, and at times surreal experience from the man behind such mind benders as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine For The Spotless Mind. Kaufman certainly is not lacking in creativity, however this project is a little more grounded in reality, complete with stop-animation that looks incredibly realistic, this alone is a reason to see this. The characters faces seem to be made of parts, rather than a singular whole. A visual representation of the frail nature of the films subjects? Or perhaps merely a design choice and nothing more; one of the best things about film is that everyone can take something different from them, for the most part, and in that regard Anomalisa is an understated gem.

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We follow Michael, who is staying in Cincinnati for a night, and from the opening scene the script and screenplay offer consistent chuckles, often at the expense of Michael’s awkwardness. His inept social abilities are obvious from the start, and I was easily able relate to him as he cringes at complete strangers attempting small talk; a cab driver insists that Michael visit the city’s zoo and try the city’s chilli. It isn’t clear if Michael has some sort of mental health issue, as when he checks into his hotel we can hear voices, whispers saying: “that’s Michael Stone.” We soon find out that he is a minor celebrity, having written a book, and is in town to give a speech. Were the whispers real? It becomes clear  that Michael is very detached from life, looking for some sort of change, something to make his life matter.

“It doesn’t matter, everything is the same,” he says at one point. As we see the world through Michael’s eyes, it becomes apparent that every person he encounters is no different from anyone else. Everyone is the same. All these side characters are indeed voiced by one person, and Michael sees them all as one. This is especially evident at the very beginning of the film, as we hear a cacophony of random musings, all blending together into one. Again, all the voices are done by an extremely busy Tom Noonan. The sound-editing overall is used brilliantly to demonstrate how Michael sees the world, or hears it.

The night before his speech, while in his hotel room, Michael thinks he is hearing ‘someone else’, and he panics, knocking on guests’ doors in an attempt to find the voice. He eventually does, stumbling into the room of two women who are in town for his speech alone. He decides to ask them both downstairs for a drink, as one of them sounds different.

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Emily, a nice person, sounds like every other character, but Lisa has a different voice. Michael sees her as an anomaly, literally a new voice in his world. She is a woman who stirs emotions within Michael that he hasn’t felt in a long time, despite there being nothing particularly beautiful or special about her. In fact, when Michael attempts to court her into his room, she asks more than once if he didn’t mean to pick Emily. Most people do, she says. But she is the anomaly Michael has been seeking. She may be shy and hesitant, frail, far from perfect. However, when Michael coaxes her into singing softly for him, she finds some confidence as Michael praises the sound of her voice. It is a wonderful scene. Finally, and for the first time in the film, Michael seems comfortable talking to another person. The time they spend together is touching and sentimental, without devolving into saccharine territory.

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After a surreal dream, Michael delivers his speech about customer relations, a topic that he doesn’t seem particularly passionate about. How May I Help You Help Them is the title of his book. When he gives his speech, he implores the audience of call centre employees to treat each person they speak to as though they are special, directly contrasting the world he is a part of, the world of sameness that he sees every day.

Anomolisa is an incredible depiction of the human condition, from the banalities of our existence to the sense that each of us is looking for change, for something to breathe meaning into our life. The film is quite simply a very human experience, with Michael being a very human character – all this being achieved with stop-motion animation! The effort put into this animation is exhaustive, and the result of this effort is incredible to watch and to feel, to immerse oneself into. The film explores the depth of humanity unlike any other. A major accomplishment in many ways, this is simply a film every person should see.