I’m proud to say that we are once again looking at one of Charlie Kaufman’s pieces of work. With films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and Synecdoche, New York under his belt, it’s pretty safe to say that he is one of the most brilliant screenwriters alive, and quite possibly of all time. Now we have Anomalisa, a startlingly quiet film that comes at you like a sucker punch to the cerebellum. The joy of this movie comes from not only watching it and seeing what Kaufman has to say, but also the hours and days after that you will spend thinking about it.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a self-help author who has traveled to Cincinnati to speak about his new book about becoming the best customer service representative you can be. While spending the night in his hotel, Stone becomes completely disassociated with reality and begins to see everyone as just one person (all voice by Tom Noonan). His night takes a hopeful turn when he hears a beautiful voice coming from down the hall. While investigating, he finds the source of the voice to be a young woman name Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is actually in town to see Stone speak. What follows is a night that may end up changing both of their lives, that is if Stone finally opens up about who he is and realizes the truths of other people.
Much like Kaufman’s other movies, part of the genius of Anomalisa is that it forces you to examine yourself and how you see the world and other people. What may turn some people off is that you may not like what you see when you actually look. This is exactly how I felt after I watched Synecdoche, New York, and even though these movies can make you feel a little bit less than spectacular, they do teach a very important lesson. Anomalisa, compared to his other work, isn’t quite as strange or complicated on the surface but once you think about it for a few days, you find many more layers that you never recognized before.
When I first heard that Anomalisa was going to be a feature length stop motion film, I was thrilled. It seems like a such a perfect way for Kaufman to tell a story, and I honestly don’t think this movie would’ve packed the punch that it did if it wasn’t stop motion. This story was originally done as a sound play with the actors on different sides of the stage just reading the lines, and then it was conceived by both Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson as a 40 minute short film. The final run time ends up being an hour and a half, and my only gripe is that it might have worked better as a 40 minute short film. There’s a lot of scenes of Michael Stone just sort of sitting in his room, and I get that it’s supposed to show how mundane he views his life, but the movie might have progressed a little better as a short film.
Back to the stop motion. The animation in Anomalisa is really something to behold and I’ve quite honestly never seen anything like it. My experience with stop motion films are mostly things like The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Boxtrolls, and Coraline, which of course aren’t the only stop motion features, but they’re the ones I feel the most familiar with. The animation and puppets in this film are something completely different in that they feel so close to being real people. This kind of goes with the themes of the movie. It reinforces the question the movie is asking about what it means to be human and what separates us from just being these walking machines programmed to mindlessly go about our everyday lives without question.
Charlie Kaufman knocks it out of the park once again with Anomalisa and has shown that the most human stories can be told without humans actually being onscreen. This is a movie that forces you to look at yourself and possibly even learn a thing or two. It’s a sad film, but in some ways it’s also a happy one. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s an exhausting emotional roller coaster that won’t be easy to forget.