Warning: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!
So I’m going to start this off by saying that I think Charlie Kaufman is a great screenwriter and filmmaker, but that in no way affects my opinion of this movie. For example, I also happen to love P.T. Anderson with Boogie Nights being one of my all-time favourite films ever, but I absolutely hated Inherent Vice. Now as for Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is also one of my all-time favourite movies ever, but he didn’t direct that one, he only wrote it. His first movie that he both wrote and directed was Synecdoche, New York which I am fine never seeing again considering it was quite possibly the world’s most depressing film ever conceived. It wasn’t bad, it was actually quite good, but each scene was more depressing than the scene that preceded it and by the end of the movie you basically want to kill yourself, so yeah, one viewing is all I need.
But now onto his latest film Anomalisa. So what is Anomalisa? It’s a stop-motion animated film written and (co-)directed by Charlie Kaufman. It was completely funded on Kickstarter.com. It was originally just a soundplay and the three actors that were used to voice the soundplay reprised their roles for the movie.
Now you might be thinking, “Only three actors? Are there only three characters in the whole thing?” Well, no, but this is where the movie starts to get…interesting. I didn’t know much about this film going into it besides it was a Charlie Kaufman film, so I expected weird and unusual and I definitely got it. Besides the two main characters (Michael and the titular Lisa), every other character in the film (men, women and children) is voiced by Tom Noonan. Now Mr. Noonan will do a slight falsetto when portraying women, but you can tell it’s all one voice.
I didn’t quite understand why the women sounded like men or what it had to do with the main story, but part way through the film when Michael is talking about voices, it became apparent that this was clearly done intentionally. In fact, I probably didn’t understand most of what this movie had to offer when I was watching it and it wasn’t until I started looking things up about the film after my viewing that I started to understand how complex the film actually is.
If there’s one thing that Kaufman likes to do in his films it’s take a look at the human mind and how it can completely mess with people. Eternal Sunshine did it, Being John Malkovich did it and Anomalisa definitely does this. It’s hinted at that Michael has what is called the Fregoli delusion. Now this is very interesting and something that I had never heard of before this film, but the Fregoli delusion is a rare psychological disorder where someone believes that everyone else is actually the same person in disguise. Hence why everyone else has the exact same voice. The only clue to him having this disorder is that the hotel he stays at is The Fregoli Hotel.
It’s that kind of subtlety that Kaufman shines at. You see, the main story isn’t that complex, it’s actually very simple: a middle-aged man travels to Cincinnati for one night because he’s speaking at a conference about customer service and (ironically) how you should treat each person as an individual. He’s tired of his mundane, boring life and seemingly wants to have an affair that night. Now he meets a woman whose voice is actually different, enter Lisa, an anomaly. In a world where everyone is the same, Lisa is unique. He instantly falls in love with her. That’s pretty much it. At least, that’s it if you don’t look at all of the subtext and the complexity of what the film has underneath.
By making this an animated film Kaufman is free to show things very differently than if it was live action. There’s a scene where the bottom half of Michael’s face falls off and, instead of a skull, he’s shown to have machine parts, as if he were a robot. Why is this important? It shows his fear of being just like everyone else. He’s starting to feel like a machine just going about a daily routine in a mechanical world.
He walks into an adult toy store in another scene, and is enamoured with this bizarre Japanese sex robot toy. Now that might seem like it’s just a throwaway joke, but believe me, nothing in this movie is just a throwaway anything. Everything is done intentionally and if you’re a theorist, you may theorise something between Lisa and this sex robot. I don’t want to give too much away, but I do recommend paying close attention to that sex robot and to Lisa, their similarities and the scene when Michael returns home to his family.
Now after all of this talking about the film, is it a good movie? Yes, I would say so. Is it an enjoyable movie? Not particularly. But I don’t know if it’s supposed to be. It’s a very unnerving movie that will make you feel awkward and uncomfortable and I feel like it’s doing that on purpose. I actually got more enjoyment from the film after it was done and I started doing research about it. So the amount of enjoyment you get from the film will be dependent on you and what you choose to do after viewing it. If you just watch the film you may like it, you may not. Its simple story makes it easy for anyone to follow, but its true genius lies in everything that the film doesn’t straight up show you.
The thing is I don’t know what score to give this film. Do I give it a 7/10 or a 7.5/10? Is that too high? Is that too low? What does that number even represent? It’s all trivial and arbitrary. Is that the overall quality of the film? Is that how much I enjoyed the film? Is that based on how good the animation is? Or the writing or directing? I honestly don’t even know if giving the film a simple score out of ten is doing the film justice.
The important question is would I recommend this movie and the answer is yes. I really would. Especially if you’re already a fan of Kaufman’s work so you understand what you’re about to see is going to mess with your head. Unlike Synecdoche, New York, this is a movie I can see myself watching more than once and getting more out of it with each viewing. At ninety minutes, it’s not a very long movie and there’s so much subtlety and complexity beneath the visuals that it’s worth viewing more than once. I mean, I haven’t even talked about the extremely awkward one minute sex scene. There’s so much that can be said about this film and it’s fun reading other people’s interpretations and theories about the film and that’s where most of the enjoyment lies.
Thanks for reading. Have you seen this film? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below. Also, if you liked this review remember to hit the like button. Also, feel free to share this blog post with your friends and family, and follow the blog so you never miss an update.