It’s really hard to think of what Charlie Kaufman’s next film would be after the brilliant and multi-layered Synecdoche, New York. The film, featuring an incredible performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, literally felt like him creating multiple films into one (probably because after that movie, I never believed he could make another one).
In a way, it makes sense that Kaufman’s next film would be one centered around two characters. Both of them puppets.
Then again, watching Being John Malkovich shows that this wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Anomalisa is a rather strange, yet brilliant way of portraying a singular theme (my interpretation): loneliness and the distance one would feel from the rest of the world. Yet, it’s with this singular theme that he expands into other darker or unsettling territories of the mind that a film with actual actors couldn’t really get away with.
The story revolves around Michael (voiced by David Thewlis), a successful writer and speaker who finds himself having issues with connecting with others. That seems to change when he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a sheepish, naive woman of whom is a fan of his work.
Now, a question you might have is this: for a film that is just about two people meeting, why make it with puppets?
Without giving away the plot, the most that can be said is that this aesthetic choice is completely justified as soon as you start watching the film. The feel of the movie and the use of puppetry are crafted so well to bring a mood that explains incredibly well the plight of the main character.
Anomolisa contains many talking points and different questions to ask in its rather short running time that there’s tons to pull apart for those who want to watch it again.
Even after two viewings, there are many questions and hidden meanings to gleam from this film. Yet, unlike Synecdoche, New York, it’s a much more accessible film.
This main fact could be why this, next to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, might just be the best Charlie Kaufman has ever written in a film. While providing no clear cut answers, the film still has a heart and a tenderness that few films have while diving into heady and dark territories.
The characters, while written realistically, are still grounded to faults. The story, while simplistic in overview, can be scrutinized to answer further questions and meanings. It’s loving, tender, but has a hidden bite to it that can only be attested to the brilliance of the screenplay.
The one example to give on how perfect this movie writes its characters is the sex sequence in the film. Yes, there is a sex sequence. But in all honesty, it is one of the most heartfelt and enrapturing love making scenes I’ve seen in a film in years.
The scene itself is so raw and exposing, yet it shows a true nature of what sex and love making is supposed to be about: the need for a connection, however brief it may be, and the need to be wanted.
It turns the characters into people, to a point where you forget that you are watching puppets. It’s startlingly deep with emotion, yet its uncompromising in its portrayal of the two characters.
It’s great that the film, while making these characters real and flawed, doesn’t excuse them for their transgressions. More often than not, films with this kind of plot make these characters out to be saintly, wronged or just misunderstood, but you don’t get that in this film.
Another example is Michael. Yes, he obviously is having some sort of mental problem. The film attests to that with the way it portrays the world around him. Yet, the film doesn’t excuse Michael for what he is and what he’s done. The movie does a great job compartmentalizing the difference between his mental problem and his morality problem, which is bravely done.
There is a lot to go on with this movie, but the simple truth is that Anomalisa is an exquisite gem of a movie that Kaufman fans, and hey, even romance film fans, should see. The excellent writing of the characters and plot, along with a great voice performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh, spark an incredible movie that must be watch by anyone who will give it a chance.
Give it a chance.