Anomalisa is Charlie Kaufman’s second film as director after his debut film Synecdoche, New York seven years ago. His newest little gem of a film sure has my absolute adoration. It’s still Kaufman all the same, but Anomalisa entails the graft of a artist who wants to subvert the whole idea of making a ‘human’ film. Anomalisa makes use of miniature sized figurines that were painstakingly shot, with patient finesse and delicacy in craft, over a period of two years. Kaufman himself has said that taking a 2 second frame would need as many as 40 takes of the camera. And then he and his team have to make the puppets look realistic enough and yet maintain a certain puppet-esque novelty. The result is magical. Anomalisa expresses its own emotive power through its quirky methods, which has more far-reaching effects than you’d expect.
This movie isn’t just weird. It’s an oddball for sure. I’m not even exaggerating. The first scene introduces us to Michael’s psyche, the film’s troubled protagonist, and how he views society as a collective voice of inane and boring chatter. Michael’s perception and personal growth is basically the focus of the film, which it does so well in both the implicit and explicit. Kaufman’s first exploit of this is to voice all other characters that Michael comes across as Tom Noonan’s voice, albeit with slight variations. All except one. But more on that later. It’s creepy at first, like some sort of affirmation that Michael is beginning to drown in a sea of mundanity.
Michael’s trip to the Fhegoli Hotel, starting with his reading of a letter from an ex-lover to his conversation with the taxi driver is ridden with emotional nuance from seemingly nothing interesting at all. Anomalisa has this effect, of filling in the pedestrian silhouttes in an everyman’s life, and subtely deriving little sparks of insight and meaning. It is quite a marvel to watch life unfold in Kaufman’s eccentric world, whose sense of realism only bends to accomodate his themes, but never breaks into full-blown surrealism. Michael’s encounter with a special someone later on is a testament of Kaufman’s balancing act.
Meet Lisa, who’s an over-the-phone salesgirl for a bakery shop. Although she doesn’t achieve the loftier success Michael has in his field of sales, she’s just about as real as Michael himself. Lisa has insecurities too. And she has a low-self esteem. Her looks aren’t spectacular. But she is the one person Michael hears in their own voice. I’d contend that although the film is about Michael, Lisa’s just as important in her own ways. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s voice gives the radiance and allure befitting of Lisa’s idiosyncratic charm. In the moment where Michael and Lisa ruminate about the meaning of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls just wanna have fun” to their awkward intimacy, you’ll begin to realize just how much the film has moved you with just the simple things .Amidst the many surreal elements, there lay a few fine imageries that stick out like a red rose on a bed of snow. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprises for you but one example is the haunting Japanese figurine, which encases a manifold of different symbolic meanings. But Charlie Kaufman’s film hits the introspective chord the hardest when dealing with what’s real and raw and true in all of our lives; We yearn that which eludes us.
Although some may view Anomalisa as an excess of self-indulgence, I found it to be a film about the ubiquitous depiction of life, it’s themes transcend the middle-class setting into a universal microcosm. Anomalisa however, is entirely open to one’s own reading. A second viewing of it, yes it was so good I watched it again, gave me a slightly different interpretation than the first. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you, but Michael’s bildungsroman (fancy literary term for enlightenment journey) is not clear at all. There is no doubt that Michael’s frustration and disconnect is so seeded in his psyche that even his shot at the spontaneous may not have changed the vapidity of his existence. Anomalisa in this regard, is a sad tale of alienation. But then we’re missing the point. All of the film’s craft, from the true-to-life mis en scene sets to the realistic re-imagining of life through puppets, to its stop-motion style, shows that it is in the very motion of life that Anomalisa finds meaning in; It leaves us with an indelible impression of what has happened, while stirring our anticipation for what lies ahead.
Rating: 9.5/10 I loved Jennifer Jason Leigh’s voiceover ❤
Images courtesy of StarBurns Industries, Snoot Films and Paramount Pictures