| Dir: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
It’s a shame that someone of Charlie Kaufman’s talent and critical acclaim has struggled to secure funding for a film since his 2008 release Synecdoche, New York. His ability to distill, communicate and confront the human condition – and the bodies that facilitate its expression in the world – is remarkable. Stop motion Anomalisa is a simple and slight film on the surface, especially by Kaufman’s usual mind-bending application of thoughtful ideas, but it remains as affecting as any of his creations. It’s the most moving, challenging and sensitively drawn animation about the aching of loneliness and the human need for connection since Adam Elliot’s 2009 Mary and Max.
Kaufman is brilliantly astute in his mining of humour and profundity from the mundanity of life; the unknown temperature of a foreign shower, small talk with taxi drivers, maintaining distant relationships out of guilt and social trappings. But there’s sadness sown into every fiber of Anomalisa, largely in the existential analysis of middle aged author Michael (David Thewlis). It’s a misanthropic, narcissistic and solipsistic viewpoint from a character who’s less of a protagonist with those qualities and more of an understated anti-hero. He craves a meaningful connection yet cannot see the depth or appeal of those around him.
The effects of these feelings on the expression of his being is Kaufman’s bread and butter. He perceives everyone in the same pessimistic light and hears them all in Tom Noonan’s monotone voice. This manifests in self-inflicted and self-destructive behaviour, compounding the isolated and unfulfilled existence he is forced to wake up to every day. His only warmth and endearment as a character comes from his obvious damage.
Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a fan in town to attend his conference, is blind to his desperation through rose-tinted vision. With her sobering imperfections she represents to him someone innocent, someone pure, someone untainted by the world. Their time together in his hotel room – from the rendition of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ to their tender sex scene – is touching in its intimacy and truthfulness. They serve each others needs in this moment. But it doesn’t last. Lisa’s once captivating imperfections soon become unbearable and relegate her to the homogonised mass.
The only thing Michael can rely on to not change for him are cold technological machines (ironically not a dissimilar description of Michael) such as the animatromic female sex machine he buys. That he is an expert in customer service adds to this brilliant metaphor by Kaufman on how humans artificially construct their everyday relationships with fabricated pleasantries. This is matched physically by the design of these animated individuals where their faces, or better yet masks, can be removed and taken apart.
“Each person you speak to has had a day”. In this dystopian world, those days can be as nightmarish as Michael’s without us realising. This is jaw droppingly (literally) beautiful work.