Written by Charlie Kaufman / Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson / Voices by David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan
Michael Stone: Sometimes there’s no lesson and that’s a lesson unto itself.
Oh happiness, thou art an elusive tease. When one manages to find you, the world is alive in a way that both energizes and inspires. But when you’re gone, life can lose all of its colour. Making connections with the people around you is a struggle and the most mundane of tasks can feel absurd and unnatural. Many find a way to live in between these two extremes but for those of us out there who know what it means to be depressed, sometimes it seems like we will spend the rest of our lives searching for even just a glimpse of happiness again. This pursuit is captured brilliantly in Charlie Kaufman’s ANOMALISA.
Everything looks as it should in Kaufman’s (SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK) second directorial effort. When you look closer though, the stop motion animation (which explains the co-director credit for animator Duke Johnson), reveals cracks in the facade. Along the side of all the faces is a line that reveals that everyone is walking around with a mask on. It seems like a fairly obvious metaphor for Kaufman but it isn’t as simple as that, and it never is in his films. A closer look still shows that everyone looks the same and before long you realize that everyone also sounds the same (Tom Noonan’s credit is literally “Everyone Else”). This is Michael Stone’s (David Thewlis) world, devoid of any demarkation and drab.
ANOMALISA spans from the time that Michael’s flight to Cincinnati touches down to the time he gets home the next day. He is in the city for a conference on customer service, in which he is the key note speaker. The enhanced look of the film adds to the sense of confusion and isolation that Michael feels and whether he is making small talk with cab drivers or hotel bell hops or ringing up an old flame he jilted over a decade ago, nothing feels right. He always seems like he is going through the motions with no sense of purpose. That is, until he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). As she doesn’t sound or look like anyone else around, could she perhaps be the answer to all his problems? I will remind you at this point that nothing in Kaufman’s films is ever that simple.
Kaufman has an uncanny ability to draw his audience in to the worlds he creates. They often feel familiar but also so far out there at the same time, which allows for them to find humour amidst the madness and to give people a chance to sit with emotions they might otherwise run away from. ANOMALISA may seem surreal at first but by the end it resembles real life with more honesty than most straight films ever do.