“What is it to be human? To ache?”
This is the question at the centre of Anomalisa – the brilliant new offering from Charlie Kaufman, who wrote Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
In a thought-provoking and poignant piece of introspective cinema, a character-driven story unfolds around Michael Stone – a well-known self-help author and speaker – on an overnight business trip to Cincinnati.
As he moves goes through the motions – shown in hilariously minute detail – and spends a night at the Fregoli Hotel (named after a paranoid psychological condition), it becomes clear just how stifling a world he lives in. Not surprisingly, Michael has trouble connecting with those around him and begins to suspect he is falling apart.
But then he meets Lisa – a shy, awkward anomaly in the system who is extraordinary in her plainness and yet manages to have the audience onside within mere moments.
What follows is their short-lived, but deeply moving, love story – and that’s about as much of the plot as I want to give away, because Anomalisa is the kind of film best watched quietly and without expectation, creating a slowly unfurling understanding of the film world.
What unfolds over the next 90 minutes is beautiful but underwhelming; a story of intense moments that are over in a flash, creating emotions that you’re not sure what to do with and a movie that is ultimately heartbreaking but forgettable. But such is the reality – and inevitability – of Anomalisa, which asserts that even the best moments in life can be truly fleeting.
It important to note that Anomalisa is filmed in stop motion using felted puppets, adding a nightmarish touch to the landscape. Kaufman really succeeds in stripping away the actors so that the audience can really see, and relate to, the characters – giving man a mask so that he can speak the truth.
By all accounts this movie shouldn’t be as moving or as though-provoking as it is. What sounds simple and almost comical in construct is instead stiflingly unconformable and deeply unsettling, a wonderful portrayal of loneliness and the crushing inevitability of life.
One thing is for sure, Anomalisa really got me thinking. I was captivated by its gentleness and bizarreness right from the start, intrigued by the unfolding sense of doom and mesmerised by the beautiful aesthetics. In a quiet way, without ceremony or didacticism, it reminded me to treasure the little things in life – for it is those little moments of brightness that will see us through the darker times.
You can see Anomalisa (rated MA15+) at Lunda Leederville from Thursday 4 February.
Anomalisa (2015, Paramount Pictures)
Directed by: Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
*I was invited to the media screening of Anomalisa (thanks Luna Palace Cinemas). All opinions are my own.