Directors : Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Writer : Charlie Kaufman
Charlie Kaufman is smarter than the rest of us, so there is a risk that writing a review of his work will prove it by missing the point completely. But with Anomalisa Charlie is taking it easy on us. He tells us that sometimes 'the lesson is there is no lesson'. Although Kaufman seems like the type of guy who makes a point even when he's trying not to.
This story seems straightforward. We join Michael (David Thewlis) on a plane and travel with him to a hotel in Cincinnati. Every agonising detail is covered. Most movies don't allow the time to follow a character into the bathroom or have them say "pardon" when they don't quite hear what another character said. Anomalisa does. We are on this journey with Michael and it feels familiar. We know that cab driver droning on and we know that struggle with the shower temperature in a strange hotel.
We also know that hotel rooms can become constrictive when you are alone. Those four enclosed walls and ceiling can sometimes push you back into yourself, but instead Michael reaches out. He calls an old girlfriend, but he acts odd and ruins any chance to re-establish their old connection. He hints at psychological problems but doesn't articulate what they are. We can take a guess.
Michael is staying in the Fregoli Hotel, in an overt nod to the Fregoli Delusion, where sufferer's mistakenly believe that every individual they are in contact with is the same person. This manifests itself for Michael as every voice that he hears sounding the same (all voiced by Tom Noonan). It adds a monotone to the already mundane and it causes him to disconnect from his life. To him, his wife and son sound the same and they sound no different to strangers. Everything has lost it's meaning, until he hears a new voice in the hallway (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and he comes alive. Have I mentioned yet that these are puppets?
Kaufmann has played with puppets before. In Being John Malkovich , puppets were used to display the inner sadness that John Cusack's character couldn't verbalise. In Anomalisa, Kaufman has removed the actor layer completely and with co-director Duke Johnson has created a stop-motion masterpiece that is both technical brilliant and emotionally effecting. We are used to seeing this type of animation used for laughs, but this plays it dead straight and confrontingly real. These puppets are anatomically correct and no detail of craftsmanship goes unseen. This is Wallace and Gromit After Dark.
Michael tells us that everything is "boring" and Kauffman treads a fine line in having the audience share that feeling, without being turned off by it. But it does feel necessary to understand what Michael is going through and it challenges us to decide if we sympathise with him or are apalled. Part of that choice will depend on whether you think we see this world as it is, or as Michael sees it.
Anomalisa leaves you with alot of questions. Is this Kaufman reflecting on the modern homogenised consumer society or is he projecting his dissatisfaction with the sameness of his own life? Is he saying we are all puppets or is he hinting that Michael thinks he might be a robot doomed to continue along the assembly line of life? You’ll have to draw your own conclusions, which is probably the whole point anyway.