“Each person you speak to has had a day. Some of the days have been good, some bad, but they've all had one. Each person you speak to has had a childhood. Each has a body. Each body has aches. What is it to be human? What is it to ache? What is it to be alive?”
When a film carries Charlie Kaufman’s name, you know it’s going to be deep. Having written ‘Being John Malkovich’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, he’s earned a reputation as a man who can find beauty in the surreal. Anomalisa, which is out now on DVD & Blu-ray, only further cements his status – and it might just be his masterpiece. It’s one of the most relatable and real films you’ll see this year…oh, and it’s made entirely with puppets in stop-motion
Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a man crippled by the mundanity of his life. Unable to interact with others and seeing every stranger as the same (all voiced by Tom Noonan, and all with the same face), he makes a startling discovery when he meets Lisa – an anomaly to his condition who he sees as an individual (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). Can she change him, or is he destined to a life of loneliness and sadness?
Anomalisa is one of those rare films that is, quite simply, perfect. Every little part of it just works. Let’s start from the bottom – the visuals. The animation here is breathtakingly gorgeous, in a style that you will quickly forget isn’t live action. The realism of the dolls and the stunning attention to detail in the sets makes Anomalisa an exceedingly immersive experience. While it’s a very unique and fresh take on stop-motion, one could compare it to Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox – another gorgeous little film. Like Fantastic Mr Fox (and unlike Wallace and Gromit), the ‘dolls’ of Anomalisa are dressed up in real fabric costumes which, alone, lend the film added realism.
The voices…all 3 of them(!!!) are perfect. David Thewlis is phenomenal as Michael, the deeply troubled ‘protagonist’ of the tale. Although he starts out the story as a relatable everyman, he’s soon revealed to be a borderline-perverted narcissist with a rather aggressive side brewing inside him. Thewlis handles all of this perfectly and toys with the audience’s emotions as we don’t know whether to sympathise, pity or hate this man. Jennifer Jason Leigh brings a wonderful innocent sweetness to Lisa, but it’s Tom Noonan who leaves a lasting impression as, well, everyone else. Noonan’s soft, monotone voice is perfect for the masses that Michael meets and cannot distinguish between, giving a good message on what it is to be individual.
Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay is a marvel, filled with the most beautifully mundane and relatable dialogue I’ve heard in a long time. Michael’s night with Lisa is a perfect portrayal of an encounter between two lost souls, culminating in a sex scene that can easily be labelled one of the most realistic you’ll ever find – yes, even with puppets. ‘Team America’ this ain’t. Kaufman shares directing duty with Duke Johnson, and the pair have crafted perfection here.
I’m not going to get into the many theories about what Anomalisa means – although I do recommend that, once you’ve seen the film, you take some time to research them. This is one of those amazingly deep and smart films that you will surely find new meanings for each time you revisit it. It’s amazingly complex and layered, and even inspirational. If a film’s diverse theories include “he’s dead and in hell” and “the whole thing is in his imagination while he masturbates”, you know it’s one to study.
“Inspirational how”, I hear you ask. Anomalisa is a unique and unforgettable journey into the human psyche, and a film that reminds us what it is to be alive. We’re all just drifting through life, but we’re not stopping to appreciate the beauty in the little things. Michael Stone is a man disenchanted, blind to the wonders of the world. But we don’t have to be.
Ferris Bueller said it best back in 1986. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Anomalisa is a rare cinematic experience to be savoured. It is perfect. 5/5.
Anomalisa at CeX
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