Review: ‘Anomalisa’ is a Hauntingly Beautiful Account of Human Nature (With Puppets)

By December 28, 2015
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It has always been a firm belief of mine that there are some movies that transcend being just movies. The kind of film that makes you sit back, take a breath when it’s over and really think about your life in a way that you never have before. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of those films for me, where it felt more like a religious experience than just some form of visual escape. It’s because of Eternal Sunshine and a number of his other movies including Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, that Charlie Kaufman has become a predominant figure in my life, and the past eight years or so without any new material from the cinematic auteur have been hard for any fans of his out there, and not just for myself. But he’s back this year with a movie he wrote, and co-directed called Anomalisa, and it might just be his most tender movie since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Now, before you roll your eyes and say I’m being hyperbolic, just hear me out.

Kaufman originally wrote Anomalisa as a sound play back in 2005, which only ran for a limited time before never being heard from again. Luckily for Kaufman (and all of us) though, the script was revisited a number of years later by the team at Starburns Industries, and after some persuading, co-director Duke Johnson was able to convince Kaufman to help him turn Anomalisa into a stop-motion, animated movie. It’s because of this series of events that we have gotten one of the best films of the decade so far, and Anomalisa will stick with anyone who goes to see it for a number of days and weeks afterwards. This isn’t just a movie that can be seen, it must be consumed and digested and thought about, and not even because you necessarily want to, but because Anomalisa demands it.

The film follows motivational speaker Michael Stone (David Thewlis) during a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he is scheduled to make a speech at the hotel he’s staying. Where things get really interesting though, is how Michael Stone hears and sees the world around him. While there are several supporting characters throughout the film, there are only three actual characters in the movie. There’s Michael, Lisa (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) – a fan whose voice sounds different than the rest of the world – and everyone else (voiced by Tom Noonan).

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When we meet Michael in the film, his plane is landing in Cincinatti late at night. From the opening moments too, we can tell that Michael doesn’t have much regard for the surroundings or people around him, and it becomes increasingly evident through a conversation with his cab driver. While the scene itself is hilarious – the way Michael brushes off all information of the city and how he so evidently doesn’t want to be having a conversation with anyone at that moment, makes the scene all that more telling. While there, Michael looks to have a reunion with his old flame Bella, which doesn’t go so well, and wonders through the streets of Cincinatti looking for some kind of special occurrence.

It’s only later on in the night, during a moment of self-reflection that Michael hears a voice, and not just any voice, but a voice that doesn’t sound the same as the others. As you can probably guess it, this voice belongs to Jason-Leigh’s Lisa, and as Michael pursues her heavily, much to her surprise and dismay, he begins to hold on tighter and tighter to this small anomaly that seems to be occurring. This includes a magnificent scene in which one of the characters performs a melancholy, a capella rendition of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, and possibly the most realistic sex scene ever captured on film. That might sound over-dramatic right now, but once you see the movie – you’ll know what I mean.

I won’t go much further into the film’s plot as I went into it without even seeing the trailer, and because of that, I think I was able to fully let Anomalisa in. This is a quiet, meditative film that will sink its teeth into you through its mood and the intense, relatable longing of its characters. This is perhaps Kaufman’s most linear and simple film to date, and will likely capture a magic for moviegoers that not many other movies this year can.

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Now, this is not a movie that will be loved by everyone who sees it, and in fact, I already know that there will be a large majority of people out there who will completely despise Anomalisa, and the thing is that they’re not really wrong in their hate. This is a movie that has a specific tone, and very specific characters, and Michael is not a very likable person. I get the feeling that you’re not supposed to like him though, as much as you’re just supposed to relate to him. Anyone out there who has felt like they’re stuck in limbo or felt the need for some kind of miracle will relate to Michael’s state in this movie though I think, and maybe more than they want to. I know I did.

Kaufman has a way of visualizing some of the most complex intricacies of human nature in the most basic of ways, and Anomalisa has a strange way of feeling incredibly prolific without its characters ever doing anything even remotely close to that. Michael has made a career out of giving lectures and writing books on how to interact with people from a customer service standpoint, only to constantly remind himself that he doesn’t have the slightest clue how to interact with anyone other than himself, and in a heartbreaking speech near the end of the film, you get to see all of his bottled up emotions spill over to the surface for just a few short minutes.

Charlie Kaufman is an acquired taste, and there are, and have always been people who just don’t see the appeal of his work, and that’s fine. But for those who have been as enthralled by his work as I have been, I think you will be enchanted by Anomalisa when you see it. For a stop-motion film, it has some of the best cinematography I’ve seen all year, and the low lights help to give it a dreamlike quality that is only amplified by its story.

I get the feeling when I watch a Charlie Kaufman movie, that this is coming from someone who loves movies just as much as I do, and believes in the power they can hold, and Anomalisa feels like the kind of emotional experience that only he could create. There really is nothing else like it.

Anomalisa is set to hit theatres on December 31st.

Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.

Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable
  • David Johnson

    Wait a more realistic sex scene than the one from Team America World Police? This i have to see!!! ;)