All The World’s A Stop Motion Film
Unlike the majority of his characters in his compelling, intelligent and poignant new movie ‘Anomalisa’, (2015) Charlie Kaufman (he wrote and co-directed) is most definitely not like everybody else. For some his ever evolving experimentation and play with the mediums and structures of story telling might be an irritant, but to his absolute artistic merit what would be the point of rubber molding the same creation again and again. The works might not always be an overt success, but when they are, they soar. And now with co-director Duke Johnson, we have them stepping up to the podium (with 118,089 individual frames ) to take the creative and humanitarian gold.
Subject wise Kaufman is often found swimming (drowning) in the lake of identity, isolation, longing and confusion, all propelled along in a highly idiosyncratic way which can feel as alien to the viewer as his characters feel to themselves and their meaning/place in life. But as is clear since we first feel out of the trees and started analysing everything around us, humans have a ceaseless desire to understand everything, and if we don’t understand it, we’ll simply apply a mask of meaning to it with non permanent glue made from flour, which will wash away with the first tears of angst.
Duke Johnson has a substantial background in the world of stop motion animation (check out his brilliant Christmas episode of comedy series ‘Community’), an artform that predominantly has a frivolous air about it. To venture into other heavier subject areas can be potentially problematic in our preconceived conditioned view that it’s for kids. But realistically we are children all our lives, who have learned varying amount of things to help us cope (or distract) with the ever increasing amount of things we don’t understand. If anything the puppet device is an incredibly shrewd way of sugaring the pill of what is to an extent is a very bleak and depressing existential fable.
What this device also enables is an initially somewhat disorientating situation of existing in a world where everybody seems to be the same person, both facially and vocally. I am seriously against spoilers of any kind, but having seen the movie a few times, it certainly would have enabled my headspace to absorb more on the first pass if I’d know about the mental disorder called the Fregoli delusion.
This may seem like a very obtuse reference point, but it is pivotal in relevance to the movie. It is ‘a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise’, and forearmed with that knowledge we accompany David Stone (voiced by beautifully forlorn David Thewlis) who is a very successful author and motivational speaker arriving in Cincinnati on tour promoting his book about customer service. Considering his apparent success and influence of his writing, he is clearly the last person to have learned anything from it.
David (who’s surname matches his heart) checks into the Fregoli Hotel, with the same faces and voices (Tom Noonan) everywhere, oppressed and depressed by the monotony and the commodification of modern life despite having everything that we are supposed to aspire for, wife, children, home, success. With the mindset of an emotional junkie he desperately/blindly seeks his next fix or insecure kick everywhere, including selfish attempts at rekindling failed relationships or when the truly individual voice of Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) cuts through the cloned walls of the hotel invigorating him into the chase for her as another prize/diversion.
At no point in the movie are you allowed to be distracted from the fact you are watching puppets, their textures and joins are deliberately obvious, yet at the same time the storytelling is so fascinating and honest, that they become more human by the second, especially in amorous bedroom encounter which is one of the most realistic human moments ever played by objects.
With cinematography that is normally found in very high end cinematic venture, everything looks beautiful and real. Though not too real as that can’t happen in a Kaufman play and there are plenty of surreal moments/devices lovingly peppered throughout.
As with any fable, there is plenty to absorb and learn, it’s up to the viewer how much of either will happen with ‘Anomalisa’, but it’s incredibly beautiful and touching fare, that as with a lot of great works maybe raises more questions than it answers, but as is so often the case, most folk blindly follow each other throughout a life predetermined by marketing meetings, whereas the strong ones step up face themselves in the mirror and tear off their masks.
Anomalisa is out now.