Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Starring David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Animated film review by Lorenzo Lombardi
Anomalisa is a film that encapsulates struggles like lost love, alienation, ennui and midlife crisis in a profound way not seen much in cinema nowadays. A visual distinction the film has is that there are no humans in this film. There are only puppets. And yet, the film invoked emotion on a level most live-action romances are unable to achieve. Anomalisa is an impeccable technical feat as well as a pure piece of introspective cinema, and one of the best films of 2016 so far.
The film follows depressed author Michael, voiced by a down-to-earth David Thewlis, as he travels to Cincinnati to showcase his newest book at a customer service convention. He has a wife and two kids, but decides to meet his ex, whom he keeps on seeing visions of. From the get go, we know something is wrong. Everybody else seems to be voiced by the same person, suggesting Michael’s perception of everyone around him is concurrent with his own life --- a grind. He then meets a woman named Lisa, gracefully voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. When her voice enters through the floodgate of the alienating voices by Tom Noonan, it really stands out.
Lisa and Michael’s relationship is one of the most touching and unconventional ones in recent filmic memory. Insecure or simply shy viewers will instantly relate to Lisa’s character as she feels unwanted and unloved, all with a scar she conceals. Her gentle voice and humility makes her likable. Fuelled by the audience’s familiarity with Michael’s search for love and Carter Burwell’s emotionally charged score, it is ultimately a relationship that will leave you with a happy tear in your eye.
Anomalisa is also a great character study of the main protagonist --- Michael. His midlife crisis is layered and his self-contained personality not fully expressed. Maybe his endless conferences and customer service work made every voice sound the same to him too; this is one of a myriad of theories Anomalisa suggests about its main character. Later on in the film, the viewer can also gather a sense as to why he had that bad relationship in the past. The film unfolds and more is told about his state. Nuances that suggest Michael’s distance from society are shown throughout the film. For example, he seems to sometimes ignore or go against whatever people are telling him (a taxi driver says try Cincinnati chilli or go to the zoo, and opportunities are right in front of him but he purposefully ignores them). I would not be surprised if this film was shown to a film studies class in the near future.
Stop-motion is a delicate process and the results are usually charming. This film, however, strives for realism, something it inexplicably achieves. Not many animated features look as realistic as Anomalisa, and sometimes it felt like you are watching real people. Well, other than fluffy skin and the joins on the characters’ faces, the latter of which can be a metaphor for our identities and personalities, as shown in one scene where Michael’s face seemingly is falling off. Even the whole idea of a puppet society could be interpreted as our willingness to work, as shown through multiple plot points throughout. Overall, the film has an incredibly unique style.
Thematically alike to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Anomalisa co-director Charlie Kaufman’s most famous screenplay), the film implies that imperfections are what makes us human, and that all of us should look for what makes someone special inside, and you’ll notice that in the title. Two lost souls looking for love has not been executed this well since 2003’s Lost in Translation.
Ending with a bittersweet and cryptic ending, one character has a symbolic revelation that leaves you utterly happy. After you are done with the film, you start valuing your own life and others a tad bit more. Anomalisa shows us the importance of knowing who you are but also to be responsible for your choices in life. Otherwise, they will still haunt you, physically and mentally.
Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson crafted an emotional odyssey that explores some of the most important issues of the human condition while also delivering a beautiful love story. You will be contemplating one of the film’s questions for ages: “What is it to be alive”?