Charlie Kaufman, screenwriting genius behind Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, & Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind & Duke Johnson direct Anomalisa, a stop motion animated meditation on loneliness and dissociation, featuring the voice talents of David Thewlis, Tom Noonan, & Jennifer Jason Leigh

Written by: Keagen Fritz – May 18th, 2020 1:27pm pst

PTN Animation Hidden Gems: Anomalisa

Charlie Kaufman’s movies strike an emotional chord that is not often struck by popular entertainment, with a poignance customarily reserved for life’s most vulnerable moments. Those piercing sensations most movies hide from us, despite their big conflicts and turbulent romances,the bleakness of things we hide from ourselves in our constant efforts to avoid pain.   Anomalisa, co-directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, puts this pain at the forefront. Kaufman draws from this existential loneliness that he quietly insists is built into the foundation of the human experience: an inescapable fear ,buried within us all.      

Isolation within a crowd

A stop motion animated movie centered around our inherent human loneliness doesn’t sound like a box office smash. Understandably, Anomalisa only made $5.7 million off an $8 million budget. A tough sell indeed, but one that will find a timeless impact as it is truly an extraordinary yet bizarre dive into a psyche in conflict with itself.

Michael gets a lift to his hotel

Michael Stone, our protagonist, (voiced by David Thewlis) finds the world unbearably boring. He feels severely detached from others and utterly helpless to change his mundane existence, traveling city to city giving customer service seminars.  Anomalisa shines through its use of stop motion puppets. Typically, stop motion films exaggerate movement, but here the focus is a hyper-realistic portrayal of the characters to highlight the awkwardness of being human. The film furthers this by playing out in real-time, creating the effect of being lulled alongside Michael in his drudging routine. By twisting the medium like this, the audience can remain detached yet observant enough to catch details frequently unnoticed. However, I’d rather not spoil those here to preserve their effectiveness.

Michael seeing the same face on everyone

Of course, this being a Kaufman screenplay, there are fantastical elements to be found in the depiction of Michael’s detachment.  Every other character wears the same face and are all voiced by Tom Noonan to emphasize the “sameness” of his world.  To Anomalisa’s strength, the surrounding characters are shown to be just as lonely and complicated within their own worlds as Michael, constructing interactions of desperation and loneliness.  They only appear to lack depth because we are attached to Michael’s self-obsessed point of view.  

Michael talks to Lisa

The film raises the stakes when Lisa, played brilliantly by Jennifer Jason Leigh, yanks Michael from his sedation as there appears to finally be another real person (or puppet).  Themes of relationships are investigated, like the dangers of burning out that initial spark through obsession and putting expectations on a partner to save us from our inherent loneliness.  Kaufman and Johnson manage to depict these feelings in a legitimately unsettling fashion that mirrors real life’s frustrating and repetitive nature.

Credit: Anomalisa

Anomalisa is a compelling scream for recognition of life’s absurdity. A realization that everyone fights against existential loneliness, and life leaves us all equally clueless. This awareness could be crippling or empowering, but thankfully that’s always your choice to make. 

You can rent or buy Anomalisa on Amazon Prime.

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About The Author:

Keagen Fritz is a screenwriting and production major at California State University Fullerton with growing industry experience.

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