‘Anomalisa’ is a touching, perplexing look at relationships, depression, and the human existence
PHOTO BY STARBURNS INDUSTRIES
Where is it playing?: The Palm
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $9.00
What's it worth?: $10.00
In this stop-motion animated featured, a man named Michael Stone (David Thewlis) trudges through a mundane world. Every person he meets is a bland repetition of every other person (in fact, every other character he encounters is voiced by Tom Noonan). But then something remarkable happens. He hears a new voice coming from a woman named Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who begins to change his mundane life. Written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman (who wrote Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and wrote and directed Synecdoche, New York) and co-director Duke Johnson, their film is nominated for Best Animated Film at the 2016 Oscars. (90 min.)
Glen: Charlie Kaufman is weird. His screenplays are weird. And his new film Anomalisa? Weird. Michael Stone’s (David Thewlis) life is drudgery. People bore him. Their banality is insufferable. He feels like there’s something missing, something wrong with him, but he doesn’t know what it is. He had no real affection for his wife and child. He’s completely alienated from everyone around him. On a trip to Cincinnati to give a motivational speech on customer service, he tries to reconnect with an old girlfriend who he abandoned abruptly 10 years earlier, but her anger toward him and his fumbling attempt to take her to bed leads to an embarrassing public meltdown in the hotel bar. He’s searching for something, anything to lift him out of his rut, and he thinks he finds it when he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a frumpy, insecure woman who’s traveled to Cincinnati to hear his talk. While everyone else—the man next to him on the plane ride, the cabbie who drives him to the hotel, the desk clerk, bell boy, his wife, his son, Lisa’s co-worker—looks and talks alike, Lisa is an anomaly (an “anomalisa”—get it?) She’s different! She sounds different and looks different, and he immediately falls in love with her. It’s incredibly tender, and you almost forget you’re watching puppets.
Anna: Anomalisa is definitely a mind trip, and I suspect that like Kaufman’s other films, multiple viewings may help to truly grasp everything that is going on. Michael’s disconnection with the world cloaks him in every interaction, the question of his own sanity distracting him from having any meaningful exchanges. He’s successful in business, well respected and admired in an industry that is all about interaction and communication, yet his personal life is anything but connected, and he’s haunted by what should have or could have been. Having the same actor (Tom Noonan) voice all of the characters besides Michael and Lisa was fantastically clever, conveying the banality of his world, a world that everyone else seems perfectly content to live in. When he hears Lisa’s voice from the hotel hallway, he frantically runs to each door trying to find her, desperate for what he thinks is the person he is meant to be with.
Glen: This is, unfortunately, one of those films that’s hard to talk about without revealing spoilers. I will say this: It’s a real puzzler, and Kaufman ain’t talking. Every time he’s been asked about the film’s meaning, he says, “Watch it.” It’s definitely a film to which viewers bring their own experiences, and so it no doubt will mean different things to different people. What does paranoia feel like? Why do people fall in and out of love? When we feel a connection, is it real, or are we all truly and deeply alone? If you find life banal, is it life’s fault or yours? Like a lot of Kaufman’s films, you leave the theater with more questions than answers. You’ll also marvel at the animation, its realism and detail, and its anatomically correct characters and their rather graphic sex scene. Puppets haven’t gotten it on like this since Team America: World Police. As an interesting side note, it’s fascinating that this film is competing against another psychological story, Inside Out, about a young girl struggling with emotional problems. I have a feeling Inside Out is unstoppable and will easily take home the Oscar, but Anomalisa will probably be the film that critics will continue to laud and puzzle over for years to come.
Anna: The intricacy of the animation is pretty mind blowing. Duke Johnson reported that it took six months to film the sex scene alone, that was time spent on making it realistic and not comedic and working out endless technical details. The filmmakers also did a great job in giving the film an ambience that conveys Michael’s state of mind, faces and voices blending together on and on. Anomalisa was funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, and was intended to be a 40-minute short. The fundraising went so well that they were able to expand the project and use the full scope of Kaufman’s script, which was based on his 2005 play of the same name. It’s one of those films that doesn’t leave your mind when you leave the theater, and its complicated study of what it means to be human is haunting. I love Kaufman’s heady and intricate work, and Anomalisa delivers just that in a beautifully animated package.
Split Screen is written by Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.