PFF24: Anomalisa (Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman, USA)

Equal parts resonant and revolutionary, Anomalisa is indeed an anomaly in the realm of animated cinema and one that remains unrivaled in the realm of dense humanistic surrealism. The collaborative stop motion effort from directors Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman invites us into the exceedingly hollow existence of one Michael Stone (David Thewlis): a well-to-do author that’s recently arrived in Cincinnati to speak at a customer service seminar. We’re offered insight into the ins and outs of Michael’s life from moment to moment, however everyone around him looks and sounds exactly the same, the effect of which slowly chips away at the man’s wavering resolve.

Kaufman as a writer has always been a purveyor of richly drawn characters in his scripts. Michael is no exception, what with his chronic dissatisfaction with himself and others proving to hamstring his search for a meaningful, moreover unique connection with another. The ever-present voice of Tom Noonan as (literally) everyone else helps to exacerbate the vacuous undesirability of his current state of living, and what plays out – despite the routine inanity of his hotel stay – is never less than fully engaging. Michael’s intermittent bouts of frantic desperation are nigh-harrowing peeks into the man’s cracking psyche, the likes of which are made better through the complementing stop motion approach.

Michael’s ensuing connection with Lisa sheds further light on Anomalisa‘s thematic heft as he rounds the corner but continues to flounder in the face of his worsening identity crisis. From here, to fully dissect the significance of this relationship would take hours and subsequently speak volumes about the quality of the film alone, however it’s the film’s obvious technical merits that work to fully round it out as a modern marvel.  Anomalisa assuredly doesn’t skimp on attention to detail in the realm of true-to-form craftsmanship, the likes of which are evidenced from one frame to the next via beautifully expressive characters and mood-enhancing aesthetic.

Anomalisa is at once a gold standard of the animated medium and a richly detailed examination of a man in the throes of existential turmoil. Kaufman’s script accentuates his knack for humor and intelligence shot through with an air of melancholic relatability, and in addition to its darkly comedic mastery, the film as an objectively artistic feat warrants all of the praise it’s garnered. It may not click for some by way of straightforward narrative – graphic sexual relations especially – but what’s presented doesn’t come off as pretentious or slight despite a confined setting and deceptively simple central premise.


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