One of my favorite film writers working today, Charlie Kaufman is responsible for penning some of my favorite films including Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. As a director he has also astounded me with Synecdoche, New York, an incredible mind twister of a film about a playwright who struggles as a functioning member of society and replicates New York for his new play. He also builds a lifelike set of the city in a giant warehouse that starts to blur the line between reality and art. The film is an incredible work of movie magic and I was feverishly anticipating what Kaufman had next.
More than seven years later, he returned with a crazily ambitious new film. Along with co-director Duke Johnson, the inventive writer is back with a beautiful stop motion animated film called Anomalisa. The film has similarities to Synecdoche, New York in dealing with identity crises and the monotony and mundanity of human interaction but presents them in ways that conventional films never could. I can safely say that there is nothing I’ve ever seen that could be comparable to Anomalisa and certainly nothing in the animation genre that has hit me as deeply. Johnson and Kaufman have created an unfathomable masterpiece that should live on for decades.
British actor David Thewlis provides the voice for Michael Stone, a talented writer flying into Cincinnati for a convention to speak about his book “How May I Help You Help Them?” Within the first few moments of the film we see that Michael has very strained and clipped interactions with people that usually go very sideways, either with them starting superficial conversations or reacting to his coarse and clipped responses. It’s very clear that Michael doesn’t like people in general.
This isn’t only limited to strangers though, as Michael is having an increasingly hard time connecting with his wife and his young son. As a result, he begins to believe he is failing on an existential level that proceeds to get worse and worse. He tries to reconnect with a woman he had dated in Cincinnati and had devastatingly broke her heart. The subsequent date between the two in the hotel bar goes as disastrously as you would expect and he begins to outwardly unravel in his indescribable depression.
Later, through an odd frantic happenstance, he meets Emily and her friend Lisa and everything seems to shift into an optimistic wonder. Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) looks unlike anyone else and is completely original from anyone he’s come across up until this point. Here I have to state that to Michael everyone has the same faces and speaks with the same voice (Kaufman staple actor Tom Noonan), no matter if it’s male, female or a child. This makes for some pretty mind blowing imagery and the reason that Michael latches on to Lisa so quickly.
Everything begins to change for Michael as he ponders an existence with the one person who is completely separate from the unchanging blankness that glares at him for so long. Willing to give up everything he has, his wife and child, for this new romance is easy for him to do but is it all as real as he believes it to be or is it just another turn through the vicious cycle.
Spending six years putting together this story, meticulously and lovingly brought to life through this beautiful but assuredly painful process of stop motion, this truly is an animation masterpiece. I truly think this film should win every animated film award this year and, even further, could be a heavy best picture contender. This film makes the emoting of Inside Out feel blank and wooden. Like I have constantly stated, this film deserves to be talked about endlessly.
For the majority of this film, I found myself laughing heartily at the real to life awkwardness Michael’s consistent experiences in his life and believe that many can relate to his predicament. Add to that the hilarious in jokes in the film like, “Cincinnati Zoo, it’s zoo sized!” or the simple fact that Michael’s hotel is called The Fregoli, alluding to the Fregoli Delusion, a rare syndrome in which a patient believes that multiple people are actually the same person in disguise. This just shows the complexity of the way Charlie Kaufman writes and why he is one of the most treasured filmmakers today.
I have absolutely no problem calling Anomalisa a perfect film, because it really is through and through. Every image on screen is a complete work of art and nothing about it’s execution comes off comical, including the staggering love scene which took six months to do alone. Kaufman continues to do what he does best, making compelling and incredibly complex human stories, while Duke Johnson arrives in the film world looking like a seasoned pro. This is one of the best films I have ever seen, and absolutely one of the top movies of 2015. It’s a clear five out of five.