The mind of Charlie Kauffman must be an extraordinary place. The writer behind films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich is no stranger to introspection and his latest film, Anomalisa, is no different.
What does make it stand out is its execution. Originally conceived as a sound play, with the help of Duke Johnson it has been transformed into a stop-motion animation, with the same voice actors from the original production. An execution, that makes all the more sense when you realise exactly what the film is about.
We meet Martin Stone (David Thewlis) who, to be perfectly honest, is a miserable bastard. He also suffers from Fregoli delusion, a mental disorder which means he believes everyone else in the world is the same person. This means that everyone else in the film has the face and voice of the same white, middle-aged man. Whether it is his wife and son or a random taxi driver they sound like Tom Noonan and look quite frankly, a bit creepy. That is until he stumbles on a woman named Lisa in a hotel, just before he is due to give a speech on customer service at a conference. Voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, she breaks through his delusion and he is desperate to find out why.
If you are looking for some cheerful and light watching, Anomalisa is not for you. This film is bloody depressing. Martin is a misanthropic twat of a human being and spending too much time in his company is tough work. Like a lot of Kaufman’s subjects he wallows in his self-misery, but unlike say Eternal Sunshine… he doesn’t have the redeeming features to make that tolerable.
Which makes grasping the central message of the film difficult. It’s hard to care about someone that you dislike that much and it makes it hard to go along with his pain. You end up respecting the film, but it would take a dollop of masochism to say that you would ever want to watch it again.
What is incredible, is the way this film looks. The animation is uncanny at times and once you get past the unusual aesthetic of these puppets, they become almost too lifelike. The sex scene that has become a bit of a talking point is one of the most realistic depictions of that act that I’ve ever seen on screen, despite it being done by puppets. There’s a humanity to them that almost makes them more human than real people.
Anomalisa is a fascinating film but it is one that it is hard to recommend. If you are looking to go to the cinema and enjoy yourself, then it probably isn’t for you. If however you want to enter that strange mind of Charlie Kaufman once again, then it will give you that, but it is unlikely to trigger the same feelings that he has inspired in the past.