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Anomalisa: A peculiarly brilliant film

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Director: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, and Tom Noonan
Rating: 4.5/5

Mind-boggling, deep-seated, and predictably strange, Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa is an offbeat depiction of life’s inner struggles. Released in December 2015, this extraordinary film that used 3D printed puppets in stop motion was co-directed by Kaufman and stop-motion animator Duke Johnson. Anomalisa is eerie yet realistic as Kaufman never fails to dig deep into the details, surprising every viewer with its idealistic storyline.

Anomalisa centers on the life of Michael Stone, a middle-aged motivational speaker (voiced by David Thewlis), who’s struggling from an existential crisis. The film starts as Michael attends a small-business convention in Cincinnati to give a speech on customer services orientation. He then checks into the Hotel Fregoli which is named after “fregoli delusion,” a psychiatric disorder that causes a victim to believe that everyone in the world is just the same person. At the hotel, Michael meets and falls for Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), a seemingly ordinary woman with a unique voice that stands out from the rest.   

Before Lisa’s voice added melody to his monotonous life, Michael was fed up with everyone in his life possessing exactly the same voice: his wife and son, the hotel receptionist, the entire cast of the TV show playing in his hotel room, and even his ex-girlfriend he gets back in touch with after almost ten years (each of whom voiced by Tom Noonan). This led him in search of something new that could give color to his life. A creative testament to how life and the people in it can lose their luster, the common voice dominating Michael’s life reflects the voices of customer service workers’s mechanical voices despite their efforts at sounding cheerful. So when a different voice—bubbly and cheerful—passes by the door of Michael’s hotel room, it makes him jump out of his own skin. To Michael’s glee upon hearing Lisa’s voice, he becomes determined to find out what makes her an anomaly—a symphony amid monotony––and what that means for him, her, and possibly, them.

 

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Kaufman effortlessly puts viewers in the shoes of the characters to find what the film exactly wants to convey—purpose. Everything in Michael’s life has become nonsensical after he lost himself and his desire for living. But meeting Lisa gave him enough reason to live, recovering from his consciousness. As Michael begins to grasp the beauty of life with Lisa, he slowly feel less and less invigorated by her, making him notice more of her flaws.  

Aside from the plot, the story’s uniqueness in dramatizing a stop-motion film adds spice to the movie, enhanced by the detailed technicalities proving just how the production was well thought-out. Kaufman went through extremes of set design and mise-en-scène that Film producer Wes Anderson is often praised for his works namely, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom. They create scenes as fully realized environments, not just a framework for the camera to look at. Tom Noonan is brilliant in delivering the concept of the lines by refusing to intonate his voice to suit every character. Both David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh fantastically gave justice to their roles—the nuances in their rhythm and intonation convey passion and amour. The whole concept of Anomalisa is quite simple, yet delivered in a complex and layered way; if not, the whole movie would appear just like any ordinary stop-motion film.

Anomalisa is profoundly beautiful inside and out as it unravels a mysterious identity, the thrill of fleeting passion, and the ensuing loneliness when we realize that people aren’t always what we make them out to be in our heads. It’ll make us discover that defining ourselves through others will only upset us when the real purpose we search for is hidden within your own existence. You’ll discover more of yourself while at the same time, igniting the courage to be like Lisa, whose voice stands out from everyone, significant and different––an anomaly.