Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Genre: Drama/ Comedy
Successful author and inspirational speaker Michael Stone (Thewlis) struggles to interact or connect with other people and is unable to see anything other than repetitive mundanity in every aspect of his life. However after a chance meeting with Lisa (Leigh) in a hotel, he potentially finds new meaning to his existence and a renewed vigour for life, but how long will this last?
Sometimes a film comes along that is unique in so many ways, to then even attempt to describe it to those that have not seen it feels like it in no way does it justice. Also, to then try to explain why it is so good ventures straight into spoiler territory and potentially ruins the overall experience of the film for others as they then cannot experience it in the same raw way that you did. Well, while I will admit that it is a very convoluted description, the fact it is the opening of my review of Anomalisa means this is obviously one of those rare films that that fits that criteria.
When Charlie Kaufman examines a theme or idea, he does it in a unique, effective and unforgettable way. Well, I firmly believe that Anomalisa will be regarded as his very best film yet as it manages to capture and depict its subject matter with unforgettable and profound effectiveness. This subject matter in this case being mental health, and specifically depression. Anomalisa is of course very much a melancholic film, but it explores its central subject without ever resorting to cheap cliché.
Stop-motion animation may seem initially like a strange choice for his latest film, but when analysed as a whole, it seems obvious that he knew that this would be the most effective way of depicting the themes of the narrative. It does prove to be devastatingly effective, as many films that examine depression just descent into melancholic cliché, but Anomalisa never does this and it is only ever raw and honest storytelling. To go into too much detail would enter spoiler territory, but how Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson use stop motion animation brings a fresh and inimitable visual depiction of the protagonist’s unique mind-set and experience of the world.
As a visual medium, film offers more variables at the disposal of its creator than other art firms, and of course many directors fail to truly appreciate this fact, but Kaufman and Johnson do. The experiences, feelings and mind-set of someone suffering with depression or any mental health problem can be impossible to sum up in words, and I am sure that Kaufman’s decision to make Anomalisa as a stop-motion animation film is one of the reasons for this.
This film’s visual depiction of depression would not be anywhere near as effective as it is unless Anomalisa were made the way it is. For example, if this were live action it would require CGI and just would not work and the main themes of the narrative would not be explored and depicted in a way that is anywhere near as effective or engaging. I know it has been said before, but this is not only one of the most human films of recent years, but the one with the best depiction and understanding of the unique mind-set of a human with depression. This film does not of course provide any answers, and knows that to even attempt to do so would be foolish, nor does it attempt to say this is exactly how all people with depression feel and see the world, but it does offer an understanding of its subject matter that few films have ever managed. It also hopefully offers a visual depiction that those fortunate enough to have never experienced the condition can empathise with and be able to understand it that little bit more.
The voice performances are also exceptional; It is mentioned from the off that Michael is a Brit abroad and Englishman David Thewlis delivers an exceptional vocal performance as Michael, providing a vocal delivery that manages to encapsulate perfectly the experiences that Michael is going through and truly sums up the anguish, confusion, loneliness and isolation that he is experiencing. Likewise Jennifer Jason Leigh’s vocal performance effectively depicts the social inadequacy and vulnerability that Lisa feels, though Micheal is very much the film’s protagonist, Lisa is also crucial to the narrative and Leigh’s vocal performance makes sure that is the case. Tom Noonan is listed as the voice of ‘everyone else’ (spoiler: he literally is), and his vocal performance as every other character in the film is exceptional and plays a crucial role in the film’s unique approach and depiction of its subject matter.
Despite being stop-motion animation, Anomalisa is also incredibly cinematic; this film took three years to make, and the painstaking attention to detail is obvious in every shot, and there are many shots that justify Anomalisa being seen on the big screen. The set design is stunning and design of the characters also deeply effective. It is also not all doom and gloom, as there are many hilarious moments within the narrative, but these are never inappropriate or false, but only serve to add to the very human feeling of the entire film.
At 90 minutes long there is no denying that Kaufman at times struggles to fill this running time and so many scenes do go on for longer than they need to, especially at the beginning as the film starts off very slow. However it is ultimately better this than filling the running time with unnecessary additional scenes or subplots that may dilute or distract from the film’s main core themes. Anomalisa immediately makes no apologies for being the way it is and though it initially tests the patience of the viewer with its slow start, this is measured and deliberate as we are gradually shown the mind-set of the protagonist. The ending may frustrate some, but I regard it as suitably in tune with the film’s themes and as a film, for me Anomalisa provides one of the rawest, honest, most effective and unforgettable depictions of mental illness that cinema has provided for a very long time.
Once again Charlie Kaufman proves to be someone that just gets cinema and just how effectively it can depict a particular subject; Anomalisa is a one of a kind film that provides a deeply engaging and unforgettable depiction of its protagonist’s unique mind-set and emerges as one of the most emotionally devastating and haunting films of recent years.