‘What is it to be human? What is it to ache? What is it to be…alive?’
Anomalisa is a film so startlingly unsettling, yet endearingly familiar, that I found myself oscillating between states of unadulterated joy and grudging acceptance throughout its duration. Through his combination of beautiful puppetry and exquisitely unique dialogue, Charlie Kaufman brings to life two of the most unabashedly ‘human’ characters I’ve ever seen, and it was this ‘human’ element, of imperfection and selfishness and disappointment, which took these characters beyond most other cinematic depictions of humanity.
Whether or not one should view the film’s main character – author and customer service specialist – Michael Stone, as a protagonist or antagonist is entirely speculative, and it was only after having seen the film that I begun to truly appreciate how multi-faceted Michael was: an entity onto which one can project their own loneliness, dissatisfaction and detachment, all very ‘human’ characteristics I feel we become increasingly aware of with age and experience, and also gradually accepting of, both in ourselves and others. It’s easy to empathise with Michael because of his yearning for love, meaning and genuine connection in a world full of scripted conversations, uninspiring moments and insincerity. Ultimately though, he’s a curmdgeonly and selfish soul, expecting miracles from those around him whilst simultaneously embodying the disappointment that has caused his disillusionment with everyone else. I feel this is one of the film’s core principles, or morals of sorts. Often I find myself becoming increasingly disenchanted with others because of the expectations I project onto them, an idea I feel the film channels with painful honesty.
Like anything involving Charlie Kaufman, the film takes place in a bleak and off-kilter reality, with his use of stop-motion animated puppets only further enhancing the surreal quality that makes the film such an unforgettable viewing experience. Dry, cynical and dark, I feel this is the least grandiose of Kaufman’s ventures, opting to focus on the minutiae of life as opposed to the more macrocosmic existential concepts he addresses in works such as Synechdoche, New York. The beige and vapid interior of the hotel in which much of the film takes place evokes a similar feeling of jaded desolation as Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation, with both Michael and the equally self-deprecating Lisa ‘Anomalisa’ Hesselman experiencing the same disconnection as the protagonists of the aforementioned film.
The visual and auditory eccentricity of the film is its defining feature. The use of a series of overlapping paranoid voices provides a strange and unnerving opening to the film. The creative juxtaposition of Michael’s inner thoughts with his work, which appears to go against everything he values, raises interesting questions about the facade we create as people, in relationships and work, often inhibiting true individual expression. Through these themes, Kaufman has created a rare and truly original piece of cinema, one that I feel can be approached and enjoyed differently with every viewing, depending on your mindset. David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh provide wonderful voiceover performances, offering us authentic and tangible human characters, which I feel exhibit both the best and worst traits that exist in all of us and ultimately make us human.
I feel this review acts as little more than a collection of my own meandering thoughts and musings, which is fine, because that’s ultimately what Anomalisa is. Atmospherically, the film possesses the same unpredictable and fragmented pace and structure of the human mind, which in my opinion is what consolidates it as an instant classic. It left me yearning for more, as the ending hit me a little abruptly, but since leaving the cinema I’ve come to realise that it’s the anti-climactic nature of the final scenes which encompass the entire mood of the film and the dissatisfaction our protagonists struggle with. Loneliness is central here, and I have to say that I’ve never felt so simultaneously moved, amused and disheartened by it.