Film Review: Anomalisa

The films of Charlie Kauffman are an acquired taste, but once you’ve seen one, you’ll never forget it.  This is only his second feature as a director (his previous being Synecdoche, New York), as he’s spent the majority of his career as a screenwriter, where he penned critically acclaimed examinations of the psyche such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Minds, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, as well as the very overlooked Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.  He’s an auteur in the truest sense of the word, whose surreal output tends pack an emotional punch most human beings can relate to in some way; Anomalisa is the most profoundly human movie you’re likely to see this year, even if it is told through the viewpoint of stop motion puppets.

Also co-directed by Duke Johnson (TV’s Community), Anomalisa tells the story of Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a man so fed up with the mundanity of his life that it’s caused every other person on the planet to sound the exact same (they’re all voiced by Tom Noonan); he’s also a hypocrite, as he makes a prosperous living out of motivating people to find and appreciate the individuality in others.  However, when he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), he might just have found the love and companionship he seeks.

The theme of love is predominant throughout Anomalisa, but not in the classic man-meets-woman sort of way; Michael is lonely, but that’s down to how self-centred and in love with himself he is.  He’s disconnected from the world because interacting with others is beneath him; no one fits his criteria of interesting, and no woman lives up to his expectations in order to maintain a fruitful relationship – he knows how broken he is, and is aware that he’s psychologically damaged to the point it tortures him, but his inability to care about anyone else is almost sociopathic.  Not even his own wife and son are important to him, and he’s willing to abandon them the moment something better comes along.

Anomalisa also touches on the loneliness of celebrity: it could be interpreted that with fame and success comes isolation.  Michael isn’t famous to the point of not being able to walk down the street without being recognised and hounded, but his hollowness can be traced back to his career taking off as an author.  However, the film also touches on the megalomania of celebrity culture, which Michael possesses in abundance, as the rest of the world are all one to him, and a chore for him to associate with.

This is a very funny film, and the humour is a welcome band aid for the heart of the story, which is a poignant tale of loneliness and mundanity – and an awkward character study of ego, dissonance and emotional vacancy.  It’s also a masterpiece, and one of the most unique films you’re ever likely to see.  However, while it will make you laugh, its deeper lying meaning might hit an unwelcome emotional chord.  

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