Anomalisa is an odd film. Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) Anomalisa is an animated film, but it is not for children. And despite being animated, it seems more real than some films with live actors in them.
Michael Stone (voiced by British actor David Thewlis) is in the midst of a mid-life crisis, but doesn’t realize it. He is the quasi-famous author of a book on how to increase sales through excellent customer service. He is married with a child, but clearly unhappy.
He is to be the keynote speaker at a customer service convention. On his way to the hotel from the airport, a cab driver tries to engage Michael in conversation, but the banality of it irritates Michael.
Michael checks into the Fregoli Hotel, which is an allusion to the Fregoli delusion, a rare disorder in which a person believes that everyone else is the same person who is either in disguise or changes appearance. Even worse the delusional person feels persecuted by the person in disguise. This theme is developed by most everyone having the same voice (and the same face). In fact, there are only three voices in the movie: Michael, Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and everybody else (voiced by Tom Noonan).
Michael can’t stand the boredom and subsequently calls an old flame from a relationship which ended badly. They meet at the hotel bar; it is an awkward encounter with a predictably bad outcome.
On his way back to his room he hears something remarkable: a female voice that sounds different from the rest. He follows the voice to another room on his floor where he meets Lisa and her friend, who happen to be staying at the hotel for the conference. They say they are huge fans of his and looking forward to hearing him speak. Lisa tries to impress on Michael that her friend is the more attractive of the two, and men usually go for her. But Michael is enchanted by Lisa’s voice and subsequently only has eyes for her. They begin a relationship which begins to quickly disintegrate right after it starts.
As with many films of this type, interpretation is left up to the viewer. The director provides clues, but does not coddle or spoon-feed the audience. Those looking for simple answers to themes posed in the film will be disappointed; a second or third viewing might be in order to get the gist of what the film is really trying to say.
Anomalisa is not a feel-good film. The themes of isolation, loneliness, infidelity, and banality of life make this film hard to watch. Michael’s depressing world-view is pervasive throughout the film, and he never really changes. He’s trapped in an isolated, lonely hell of his own making with no hope of ever escaping it.
Where the film shines is the realistic stop-motion animation. The puppets were made with a 3D printer which makes them look more realistic than if just modeled in clay. The realistic animation, graphic sex scene and pessimistic outlook make for a jarring, unsettling film viewing experience. The film is not for everyone.
Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.
Worth a look for the stunning, realistic stop-motion puppet animation.
Skip it if you don’t like depressing films.
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