To watch Anomalisa, the viewer needs to be prepared to see an internal fantasy world in which we observe the inner life of a frustrated, despairing middle-aged man who feels that everyone he meets wants a part of him, and he cannot find for himself the peace and contentment he craves. To accentuate the surreal qualities of his existence, writer/director Charlie Kaufman in collaboration with animation specialist/co-director Duke Johnson populate the film with puppets in stop-motion animation. In bringing home a specific point, only Michael Stone (Thewlis) and Lisa (Leigh) are voiced by the actors; everyone else is voiced by Tom Noonan. It’s helpful to know beforehand that the film references the Fregoli delusional disorder in which one imagines that everyone else is the same person, and that person is against him. That Michael checks into the Fregoli Hotel sets up the scenario. The experience is illustrated early on in the film when the screen turns black and all we hear is a cacophony of almost indistinguishable voices talking about the mundane.
Michael is a Brit now living in Los Angeles with a wife and son and is on his way to Cincinnati where he is to give an important speech. He is an expert in customer relations and has written a book entitled, How May I Help You Help Them? The man seated next to him on the plane, the taxi driver on the way to the hotel, and the hotel attendants all chatter in banalities to which he responds politely with gritted teeth. Each one is indistinguishable from the other to him. He is clearly bored, and follows a routine when he gets to his room. Call wife who insists he talk to son, order room service, look over speech, call old girlfriend.
Somehow, Michael, this expert in customer relations (whose bottom half of his mask falls off in the hall at one point), inevitably manages to offend (his real bitter self and intentions are revealed) and he is ultimately left on his own, lonely and isolated. He does manage to engage two women during the evening, and the story proceeds to show how Michael deals with personal relationships, including his life at home. With little ability to introspect and learn, Michael continues on in his existential misery, never understanding how to the bridge the gulf that separates him from everyone.
Anomalisa has been a critical favorite in its questions about the nature of identity and what it means to be human, to ache, to be alive. It’s generally considered to be a comedy. My objection to it is its pessimistic, cynical point of view and the absence of any movement of the main character out of his miserable condition.
Anomalisa, a film for Charlie Kaufman fans.
Grade: C By Donna R. Copeland