Anomalisa is yet another brilliant, complex and hugely original concept from the strange and idiosyncratic mind of Charlie Kaufman, the genius that brought us Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Animated by meticulously flawless stop motion and awash with a deep, mournful melancholy, the beautiful picture tells the story of self-help author Michael Stone (David Thewlis) as he travels to Cincinnati to promote his latest piece of writing. Imprisoned in his own self loathing and depression, Stone is severely disconnected from the rest of humanity (and his own family). He perceives everyone else as the same identical white man with identical features and voices. Gender, identity and personality are all erased and replaced by a bland male-neutrality.
This phenomenon he experiences is what is known as the Fregoli disorder (also the name of the hotel the character stays in), a rare mental condition in which the victim holds the delusional belief that different people are, in fact, the same person.
This all changes, when Stone finally hears the voice of difference. In a sea of blandness, repetition and in-distinction, an insecure young woman named Lisa Hesselman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) stands out from the crowd and captivates Stone in ways he couldn’t earlier perceive. He declares her an anomaly and retitles her “Anomalisa”.
This is haunting, ambitious and heartbreaking filmmaking that profoundly comments on the state of our disconnect with the people around us and the selfishness that can blur everyone else’s lives into nothing but white noise.
Stone shows elements of kindness, tenderness, warmth and love, but his demotivation with life comes purely from his introverted and self-absorbed thinking. His occupation as a glorified self-help writer further helps to reinforce the very arrogant notion that one man’s thinking can help fix the rest of society.
The animation is so precise, naturalistic and without blemish, that you begin to forget about all the strings and painstaking incremental movements that have brought these dolls to life. Each manipulation is remarkably beautiful and shows a level of love and care for the craft, that juxtaposes brilliantly against Stone’s hatred of society.
It also furthers Kaufman’s interest in puppetry that began with Being John Malkovich. Though not to the extent of his earlier work, the film still explores and debates the presence of a larger God-like figure/s (the puppeteers here) and their ability to manipulate and control people, places and things into action. Also much like BJM, the film comments greatly on the corrosion of individuality, and the fluidity and uncertainty of identity and gender, something that is as topical and relevant for audiences today, as it was back in 1999.
Some may struggle with this being yet another example of white male privilege gone wrong, but I would ask that you refrain from writing it off as so. Kaufman is fully aware of this reading and exposes Stone’s pathetic nature and belittles him in the process. While I’m saddened by aspects of Stone’s plight, it is self inflicted. Lisa is by far, the most human and tragic character in this piece and her raw honesty and humanity make her hugely sympathetic. Despite her loneliness, her outlook and acceptance of life does provide a much needed glimmer of hope.
With Anomalisa, Kaufman confirms himself once again as a filmmaker and a visual artist. With the help of fellow filmmaker Duke Johnson, his latest is introspective cinema at its most challenging and achingly real. Adventurous and open minded cinema-goers, who demand to see that one truly great anomaly in the crowd of Hollywood repetition and reproduction, will be richly rewarded upon viewing this film.
The final credits thank well over a thousand people, who helped Kickstart this project into life and for their efforts and contributions, this reviewer is eternally grateful.