The United States has a knack for underestimating animation. Most believe the medium can only be for children, or at least family friendly. Due to such parochial views, animation continues to be seen as inferior to live action films, inhibiting creativity and development in American animation. That is why films like Anomalisa are tragically rare.
Written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame, Anomalisa studies the fragile and fleeting nature of human connection through its protagonist Michael Stone (David Thewlis), who struggles to comprehend why he is as miserable as he is. During a night at Cincinnati’s Fregoli Hotel, where he is set to speak at a customer service convention the following day, Michael meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and everything changes. Immediately taken by her, Michael hopes he has found the happiness he desperately seeks.
Anomalisa is a film that could not have worked in live action. Its clever use of character designs and voice actors allows audiences to truly see what the world looks like from the eyes of the film’s protagonist. By visually creating the extremely banal world Michael sees and hears, the audience gains a rich understanding of his character and his motives. It also makes the film’s final frame all the more heartbreaking.
Because the process of animation is incredibly tedious and time-consuming, everything one sees on screen is intentional. This enables even the most dubious of interpretations to have some merit. Due to its mature audience, Anomalisa is allowed to be ambiguous. It does not spell things out like a Disney film would, letting its audiences decide for themselves what the film is trying to evoke.
Anomalisa is ironically the most realistic film of 2015. Despite the stop-motion and puppetry, the film’s dialogue, conflicts and character actions are so candid that audiences cannot help but relate and laugh at the awkwardness that comes from people interacting. Yes, there is nudity. Yes, there is a certain sex scene that is particularly graphic. But it is treated with a type of respect and honesty that other films would not dare try. One truly feels like they are a fly on the wall.
With a running time of 90 minutes, to some the film may feel surprisingly long. But its slow-building tension is necessary to keep the film grounded in the realism it successfully achieves. It also makes the mental and body horror all the more shocking and impactful.
Anomalisa is not a happy film. It is an odd mixture of horror, romance and misery, packaged together to make audiences reflect on their own isolation and current relationships. It is moving and deep film that weighs heavily for days afterward. Above all, it is a must-see.
Anomalisa was released nationwide on December 30, 2015.