Anomalisa (2015) Review

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A new Charlie Kaufman film, Anomalisa comes from the genius behind Being John MalkovichAdaptationEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York.

Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at The Oscars 2016.

I have been very excited for Anomalisa for a while now, having been enamoured with all of Charlie Kaufman’s main body of work as-well as interested in the productions of Dino Stamatopulo’s Starburn Industries. But goodness, is this very different to what either have created before. Yet still absolutely fantastic. If you like any Kaufman films you have to give this one a watch.

Spoiler Free Anomalisa Review
Directors: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Stars: David Thewlis (Michael Stone), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Lisa Hesselman), Tom Noonan (Everyone else)

Michael (David Thewlis) in Anomalisa (2015)

Michael (David Thewlis) in Anomalisa (2015)

Anomalisa is Charlie Kaufman’s crazed and depressive take on isolation. Explored in films such as Lost in Translation, Kaufman pushes the idea to such extreme lengths to create Michael Stone, a character who is so alone and disconnected he sees nobody except from himself and everybody else. A very slow burning film, it becomes deeply immersive as the issues are intensely explored over a roughly 24 hour time period. Whilst known as an incredibly complex, perhaps less mainstream writer, this is perhaps Kaufman’s most accessible main work. Not to say that it isn’t true to an artistic vision, just that it is perhaps less immediately bizarre and complex as Adaptation or Synecdoche, for example. Anomalisa is still thought-provoking and meaningful, both in terms of introspective thoughts and precise plot details.

Starburn’s Industries has also done a superb job with the animation that looks very realistic, whilst retaining an original style. This combines with the beautiful cinematography to create visuals to present important meaning without becoming too over stylised to reduce the impact of the events unfolding. Each location feels real and connected, as though these were real places that you could to and from that relate to places that most people will have visited before. All three voice actors are also wonderful in their own way. Both Michael and Lisa’s characters are incredibly believable and you can see their emotions through both the slight movement in animation and the way in which they speak. And Tom Noonan‘s work as literally everyone else is an absolute sight to behold and the way in which he can be characters that are different, yet one, is a marvel to behold.

If you like Charlie Kaufman’s over works then you will like Anomalisa. Although it is not as wild and immediately off-kilter as his other films, it still has the same complex ideas that will challenge the viewer to think for themselves and discuss their opinions of what happened, why and what that makes them think of the world we live in.


From this point on there will be spoilers.

Michael (David Thewlis) and Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Anomalisa (2015)

Michael (David Thewlis) and Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Anomalisa (2015)

The following are some of my personal immediate interpretations after first watching the film.

Isolation is the main theme of Anomalisa. Michael is bored of a dull life and cannot connect with anyone. They all are one robotic person to him, following what society tells them to do. With no true emotion. No reality. Just one big lie that repeats itself over and over. It is effecting every aspect of his mental state, breaking down and unable to cope with it anymore. Though perhaps it wasn’t always this way for him, it clearly has been for a long time. But we aren’t to simply be sympathetic towards him. Michael is very self-centred. He calls his ex-girlfriend Bella for his own gain. To try to make sense of his problem, or perhaps to sleep with her. Not for any reason that would be beneficial to her, or to even just see her again as a friend. Once she realises this, Bella quickly leaves.

Eventually Michael finds Lisa – through the sound of her voice not being the same as all the others. He believes they have a connection because of this and spends the evening with her, although he always focuses on her voice rather than trying to learn or understand about the person behind it. They have, what could perhaps be, a wonderfully perfect evening. A perfect moment. In the morning they have breakfast. Now that his feelings of lust for her have gone, Michael realises that they don’t actually share this connection, that actually she annoys him. That maybe everybody IS the same, including her. Perhaps this is what happened too with Bella and his wife, he did say that he eventually pushes everyone away. That, as the end credits song says, he has mistaken them for his true one. But is this true perfect one not just a self-centred fantasy that can never be truly fulfilled? Is he not just deluding himself?

He thought he was so close to breaking free, only to get pushed down again and so Michael completely breaks down during the speech at the conference. What his actual speech should be talks about treating everyone as an individual, that “everybody has had a day”. But it turns into this depressive monologue as he believes there is nobody there for him. That everybody smiles and gets on, while actually we are all going to die sooner and sooner each day. That he can’t talk to anyone about this. He arrives home, where his friends and family try to surprise him. To show their support. But he shuts off completely, failing to recognise them as individuals. There is no hope for him. This isn’t the case for everyone though, as we see Lisa writing to him. That he has made her happy, letting her “walk in the sun”, and we see her friend. What she truly looks like as an individual, real person in the end.

There is definitely more going on than these brief ideas, however. And like every Kaufman film I feel like it would be perhaps impossible and fool-hardy to try to understand it all. What was going on with the sex doll? The dream sequence? Fans will theorise, but we may never know. And that’s okay, as everyone gets to take something slightly different from this fantastic film.

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