Charlie Kaufman delivers again

Somehow a film comprised of claymation characters feels more human and visceral than the majority of modern cinema. In the beautiful, yet dismally crafted world of Anomalisa, one of cinema’s modern greats, Charlie Kaufman, delivers a heart-rending story, full of his characteristic offbeat humour and introspective psychological exploration. This film is a fresh and welcome addition to the adult animation genre and deserves to be held in the same regard as films like Waltz with Bashir and The Illusionist. 

The film primarily takes place over the space of a night in a Chicago hotel, following Michael (David Thewlis), an inspirational speaker who has, ironically, lost any sense of positivity in his life. He sees the world in a bleak manner, not feeling any real connection with those around him, even his wife and child. His gritty Northern dialect juxtaposes any American optimism. Every other character, but one, is voiced by Tom Noonan, in his brilliantly monotonous tone. Michael suffers from the Fregoli – also the name of his hotel – delusion, whereby everyone seems to be one person. Or at least, that is the case until he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the anomaly in his life (hence the title Anomalisa). She is just as vulnerable as Michael. Although he works as a public speaker, Michael displays the same frailties and lack of confidence as Lisa. They understand and relate to each other instantly, with an equally swift intimate relationship materialising from this. The bond shared between two pieces of clay is as raw and real as any we’ve seen on the screen before.

Whilst the animation is awe-inspiring, it was not solely a stylistic choice. The artificiality of the actors and the world they inhabit highlights the falsity in their relationships. Michael doesn’t want to make small-talk with his taxi driver, as he knows that it is meaningless and forced. He doesn’t want to deliver a speech to his audience, as he doesn’t care for them or believe in what he is saying. And he doesn’t want to play happy families at his party, as he can’t shy away from the unhappiness of his marriage. These characters are false both in the manner in which they are modelled, but also in the way they act. They lie to themselves and avoid their issues. Whilst Michael is delusional and mentally ill, shunning those who ‘love’ him, losing his sanity during his speech and experiencing a disturbingly vivid dream where all conspire to keep him from Lisa, he still understands the meaning of insincerity, and although his marriage is loveless, he retains an idea of what it means to truly be in love. Though artificial in body, Michael fully understands the harsh nature of reality.

Kaufman here has made a film that only he could make. His abstract, surreal and metaphysical exploration of the human state, through a method of animation usually reserved for children’s cartoons, is thought provoking and distinctly Kaufmanesque. I personally see him as one of the most fantastic, unique and experimental filmmakers working in the US today, with a filmography which gets more and more impressive as the year’s pass. If you’re a fan of his style of cinema, then Anomalisa is guaranteed to leave you more than satisfied.

★★★★★

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