Writer/director Charlie Kaufman has been responsible for some of the most original and intriguing films of recent years – Inside John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synechdoche New York, to name but three. When I tell you that Anomalisa is created using stop frame animation, you may have preconceptions of what it’s going to be like, but I’d advise you to go along with an open mind, because in my humble opinion, there’s never been another film quite like this one. To begin with, the animation techniques employed here are extraordinary, pushing the medium to its very limits. Sometimes, particularly in close up, it’s hard to believe that you’re not actually watching real actors. And there’s something about seeing such human tragedy enacted by puppets that somehow serves to amplify the reality of the situation.
Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is going through a long dark night of the soul. He feels alienated from his wife and young son and stumbles through a world where everyone seems to have the same face. This is doubly unfortunate, because he’s a motivational speaker and the author of a critically acclaimed self-help book aimed at business people, intended to teach them how to deal more effectively with their customers. Michael embarks on a trip to Cincinnati where he is to deliver a keynote speech and his journey unfolds in more-or-less real time, capturing the alienating experience perfectly – the meaningless chatter of a taxi driver, the disturbingly beatific gaze of a hotel receptionist, the disconcerting anonymity of a hotel room. Michael contacts an old flame, who he hasn’t seen for years, in the hope that he’ll rekindle some passion with her, but it ends badly. She clearly still harbours a grudge. Shortly afterwards, he chances upon Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) an avid fan who has come all the way from Akron, Ohio to catch his speech. Sensing an opportunity, Michael embarks on a clumsy seduction…
There are only three voice artists at work here – Tom Noonan handles all the other roles, male and female, a move which at first seems like an affectation, but as the story moves increasingly into a Kafkaesque meditation on identity and the bleak condition of human interaction, it all begins to make a lot more sense. A fumbling and protracted sex scene between Michael and Lisa may perversely be the most realistic coupling ever committed to the big screen, and the bleak tragedy of the film’s conclusion is particularly resonant. I sat there mesmerised throughout.
Mind you, it’s not to everyone’s taste. A woman in the row behind us loudly proclaimed that it was ‘the worst movie she’d ever seen.’ Well, she’s entitled to her opinion, of course, but I have to disagree most vehemently. Anomalisa (co-directed with Duke Johnson) may just be Kaufman’s masterpiece and much as I liked Inside Out, I can’t help feeling that this was a more worthy contender for that animation Oscar. Go see what you think, but whatever you feel about the merits of Kaufman’s work, I think you’ll have to agree that this is a film like no other.