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Anomalisa
Genre Animation
 
Review:

Anomalisa is a Charlie Kaufman... it's probably time we gave him a thing. You know, "a Spike Lee joint". How about "a Charlie Kaufman pearl"? The screenwriter has brought us many art house pearls: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Synedoche, New York. Every time he commits words to paper, it seems as though he's able to access another level of film-making, taking an imaginative idea and extrapolating it into a haunting and mesmerising feature film.

Just when we thought he couldn't go any deeper, he's changed his medium, using the boundless format of animation where there are no limits to the power of imagination. Perhaps this is going to be a place he returns to as his pearls become more and more introspective. Anomalisa, his latest achievement, is his first exploration of animation and it probably comes as a dull surprise that he's chosen to make the emotional journey as real and down-to-earth as possible.

Anomalisa follows Michael Stone, an author who is making a presentation as part of a business trip. Arriving in the city, he's whisked to his hotel and mulls over whether or not to contact an old flame. It sounds fairly mundane, but reflects our lead's state of mind. Stone, voiced by David Thewlis, finds himself in an existential crisis and the surreal outworking of that makes this animated comedy drama comparable with The Truman Show.

The textured stop-motion animation takes some getting used to as our characters are humanoid, yet distanced by lines across their faces in order to assist with manipulating expressions. This is somewhat distracting at first, but becomes the norm and the suspense of reality sinks in as the integrity of the story and emotion take the wheel. What also becomes purposefully alienating is the fact that the voice cast consists of three with David Thewlis supported by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan.

Kaufman's screenplay has been written as if it had been intended for a live-action film. So much so, that the animated characters operate in a state of ignorance, unaware that they're being manipulated by outer forces. This helps sell the Twilight Zone paradigm, giving everything a creepy overlay as we are slowly immersed into Stone's obscured reality. The ordinary is carefully constructed in the generic details of a four-star hotel and as if by magic, we slip into Kaufman's world.

It's the sort of reality that has so much vulnerability that it vies with live-action drama for a sense of truth. The characters are unreal, yet their deeply human emotions make them more than real. Anomalisa features nudity and some voyeuristic moments that make you, the fly-on-the-wall, almost cringe at the intimacy. The film features a sex scene that could be the most honest and down-to-earth sexual encounter committed to film.

Anomalisa is a bizarre film that's refreshing in its blinding intimacy and honesty, powered by beautiful and painstaking animation and projected through Kaufman's mind to make for a challenging, introspective and imaginative journey. If you've never been subjected to any of Kaufman's soul-searching and thought-provoking films, you may find it a bit too out there, but for those willing to take a dive into the deep end... it's a disconcerting yet memorable dream waiting to happen.

The bottom line: Surreal


 

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