Tom Crowley checks into Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.
Anomaly- ‘Something that deviates from what is standard, normal or expected’
An anomaly is something that our protagonist Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is desperately searching for in Charlie Kaufman’s fantastic new stop-motion animation. Anomalisa is co-directed by stop-motion expert Duke Johnson and is an existential tale of depression, alienation and mundanity.
Michael Stone is a renowned customer-service specialist who flies to Cincinnati to give a speech at a convention. He stays at the Fregoli Hotel. ‘Fregoli’ does sound like the name of a posh hotel, but it is also a rare monothematic delusion. The Fregoli delusion is a rare disorder in which a person believes that multiple people are in fact the same person in disguise. Michael Stone has a variation of this disorder, and in turn while experiencing the film, so does the audience. Everyone’s voice is the same (voiced by Noonan in monotone) and everyone has the same blank face.
This represents Stone’s severe depression. Nothing excites him, people are boring to him. To talk on the phone to his wife and child is a chore for him. He doesn’t seem to like himself or what he has become. He lights up cigarettes almost ceaselessly to accentuate the pointlessness. During his one-night stay at the hotel he chases the past in desperation which only brings him to realise why it is the past.
Then he suddenly finds his anomaly, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Hearing her voice down the hotel corridor he frantically chases her down. Lisa, although quite insecure, is the opposite of Stone. She finds beauty in the small things that life has to offer. She is fascinated by things that Stone finds melancholy. Lisa is a customer service team leader and is instantly infatuated with Stone, a supposed rock star in such a circle. Stone falls in love with her because she is different. He can’t get enough of hearing her voice.
However, for Kaufman, it is clear that this is a tale of depression. Stone’s mental illness becomes readily apparent. This is much to the confusion of Lisa, a breath of fresh air in this deeply existential and at times truly depressing narrative. With these two characters Kaufman endeavours to dissect a fragment of the human condition. When they are together the romance between Stone and Lisa is potent. As individuals, sadly, it could never work.
The humanity within this stop-motion animation is amazing. It is interesting to gauge this aesthetic with our connection to these characters’ unreal human bodies. It reminds one of the audience affiliation with the Operating System Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). In cinema when the body is taken out of the equation audiences have a different understanding and perception of character. Anomalisa certainly wouldn’t have had the same impact if the characters where played by Thewlis and Leigh in the flesh. To take leave from the real provokes unbiased metaphysical thought.
Anomalisa and Her share the same idea of a lonely man searching for the ideal. Kaufman’s long anticipated follow-up to Synecdoche, New York (2008) has been worth the wait as he continues to fuel self-reflection and existential thought in his audiences.
Anomalisa screened on 23rd February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (18 – 28 February)