anomalisa_2Year: 2015
Director: Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman
Writer(s): Charlie Kaufman
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary. (Source)

As you might’ve guessed, Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa is not like any other animated film you’ve ever seen. It’s a breathtaking experience that vividly holds a light to human frailty, twenty-four delicate frames per second. There’s a method to the madness here, why it wasn’t shot with real actors, and the reasons behind that become painfully clear, slowly but surely. Like Kaufman’s previous works, the writer/director uses the surreal to frame mundanity and our innate struggle to capture the extraordinary – the results are heartbreaking and all too real. Without spoiling what happens, the synergy between concept and execution allows us to really transcend the human experience in order to see it from a fresh perspective.

Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a motivational speaker in the middle of a book tour. He’s just touched down in Cincinnati to speak at a hotel, but something’s off. On top of his obvious disdain for others and meeting new people, his internal and ironic struggle (given his occupation), is compounded by the fact that everyone around him is literally the same. They all seemingly have the same face, the same eerily unsettling voice (thanks to actor Tom Noonan), and it isn’t hard to see that this is driving him mad. That is, until he chances upon a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She’s different and he’s instantly enamored with her, despite some obvious differences that he can’t put a finger on. Over the course of a night, feelings are shared and Michael’s world takes an unexpected turn.

What makes Kaufman and Johnson’s film so revelatory is how fully formed it is on every level. It’s the kind of film that’s highly conceptual and intellectual, but still manages to be accessibly human, using everything from a layered script to poignant mise-en-scene to construct a world that is tragic and profound. From the film’s opening sunset, to the interchangeable design on each character’s face, to the name of the hotel, (El Fregoli, named after a psychological disorder), there isn’t a single element out of place or anything that doesn’t carry its weight. As the blend of painstaking craft and painful implications make themselves clear, you’ll realize that you’ve been taken on a rare kind of psychological journey, one that doesn’t play out in a way you’d expect or wish upon anyone you know. Together with a deft command of observational humor and piercing sensibility, Kaufman and Johnson have encapsulated the very essence of human connection in all of its inexplicable mystery.

anomalisa_3Atop the film’s many technical accomplishments, the voice acting is another element that demands praise. As Michael Stone, David Thewlis is heartbreaking. There’s a delicacy to his voice and melancholy timbre that makes it even hard to listen to. It’s so weathered and weary and broken down, and it only hurts more as the story progresses. As Lisa, Jennifer Jason Leigh is perfection. She’s the complete opposite of Thewlis – there’s a purity and innocence to her that plays off of him with genuine naturalism. By design, she steals the show, and without her, the film wouldn’t work as well as it does. As literally everyone else in the film, Tom Noonan’s voice creates a special type of effect, coloring the tone of the film through versatile aural pantomime, oft times to unsettling or even humorous effect.

Anomalisa cuts deep, an introspective look at how beauty that can be horrifyingly easy to miss. There’s assuredly more that can be said about the film, but it’s something that has to be experienced first and foremost, no doubt resounding differently to each person. What is for certain, is that it’s focused and haunting, a cautionary tale of sorts illustrating how easy it can be for life to slip away.