T: After a random watching of Adaptation on HBO the other evening, Red Vines and I delved into the world of its creator, Charlie Kaufman. I, myself, am quite familiar with Kaufman as he is the mastermind behind my favorite movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which – by the way – if you have never watched it you should drop whatever you are doing RIGHT NOW and go watch it!); however, was unaware of any of his recent projects. This is how we came to watch the brilliant and innovative movie, Anomalisa.
Both Red Vines and I are always ECSTATIC to discover a new stop-motion animation film, but what made this particular movie-watching experience so unique was how adult and raw the film felt (in fact Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa is the first R-rated animated feature to be nominated for an Academy Award). This isn’t to say that other stop-motion animation films can’t evoke visceral emotions – the best kind always do – but this film was so heartbreakingly human and saturated in existential woe that it isn’t long into the movie that you have already forgotten the characters themselves are in fact inhuman, despite the glaring and intentional clues left behind to remind us so.
This is the story of middle-aged David Stone in town for what appears to be a pretty routine business trip. Although it took me a minute to catch on, the audience soon realizes that everyone in David’s world shares the same face and voice. Whether man, woman, or child, the personages surrounding David share these arguably unremarkable traits. It is quite evident early on how lonely David is. Whether mindlessly ordering food, avoiding basic hotel programming, evading conversation from the bellhop, debating on revisiting an old flame – David is a man fractured by his insecurity and desperation. This all seems to change upon meeting Lisa, the anomaly (hence the title of the film) in David’s life as she shares her own unique visage and voice. The best scenes of this film lie in the quiet moments shared between these two misfits. Both are desperate for real, genuine, meaningful human interaction and yet utterly fearful of rejection – kind of like all real-life humans, ya know?
What is truly remarkable about this film is how truly ordinary everything seems. It’s eery to watch a film comprised entirely of puppets mirror similar situations and places and people that you know you have been witness to – all the way down to the mundane hotel art and ever-present humming of the hotel ice machine. And it is in the careful attention to these kinds of very real details coupled with the haunting themes and imagery that will leave this film lingering in my heart and mind for some time. I am sure of it.
RV: This movie is unbelievably clever. I can not say that enough. Charlie Kaufman has always gotten his accolades for his witty original screenplays, but this movie utilizes stop-motion with such unique and smart decisions that only a fool can’t see Charlie Kaufman as a Hollywood genius.
With that being said, the viewer has to be careful not to make a judgment on the movie during the first half-hour. What at first might appear to be jarring signs of the film’s low budget eventually transforms into a very deep message about isolation. Let me explain. During the first half-a-dozen conversations, (as Twizzlers has also pointed out) the viewer will quickly notice that every character except for David has the same facial structure and voice. They will also be able to clearly see the puppet’s creases that show where the face is attached to the head. I read many reviews that seemed to think this was nothing more than a sign of the constrained budget unable to give the puppets adequate detailing, but by the end of the movie, it’s quite clear to even the least astute viewer that this is yet more symbolism highlighting the fakeness of the world that suffocates David at every turn. He is so fixated on his own isolation that even a weird Japanese sex toy looks more human than his ex-girlfriend, his wife, or even his kid.
The subtlety of the symbolism is where this movie really shines. Kaufman does not rush the message. He lets the viewer sit there confused for the first half hour, allowing the symbols to speak for themselves. With just subtle clues abound, David and the viewer’s bizarre journey becomes much more intriguing and the final reveal much more satisfying.
5 Twizzlers: I promise you, this is a perfect movie – no strings attached.
5 Red Vines: This movie is definitely an anomaly or in its case an anomalisa.