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Anomalisa

I get excited when I see Charlie Kaufman’s name attached to a film.  Partly because it doesn’t happen that often (his last was “Synecdoche, New York” in 2008) but mostly because he is an unique and distinct writer, who also might be completely nuts.  His movies take me places no other movie goes (for instance, literally into John Malkovich’s head) and I always enjoy the ride.

So I buckled myself in for “Anomalisa,” and was a little surprised by what a gentle Sunday drive it was. This is by far the most subtle and restrained of Kaufman’s films.  There are a number of unusual elements at play here (it doesn’t surprise me one bit that Kaufman decided to use stop motion puppets) but the overall effect is surprisingly banal: this is, for the most part, a movie about normal people doing things normal people do (as long as you consider adultery and one night stands something normal people do.)

And it’s really, really good at being normal.  “Anomalisa” is very well-observed, and Kaufman clearly has a talent for the tiny absurdities of life, especially life on the road.  I was on the road, staying in a hotel, attending a conference, when I first saw this movie, and the first half hour was magical in the way it captured all the little moments that drive introverts like me crazy: the bellboy who insists on talking to you in the elevator. The taxi driver who really wants you to see the local sights. The front desk that tells you way more than you need to know.  All these people trying to be friendly, just making it worse. (I love people, I just don’t want to talk to them 24/7.)

Except not everything is quite normal, and maybe Stone has problems beyond being an introvert like me.  There are only three voices in “Anomalisa.”  The main character, whose name is Michael Stone, is voiced by David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Lisa, the woman he meets while traveling to a customer service convention. Tom Noonan provides all the other voices, of which there are many, both male and female.  This is the main premise of “Anomalisa.”  Everyone sounds (and seems) exactly the same to Stone, and the world is a lonely and terribly boring place.  Until he meets Lisa.

When I first watched this, I thought it was a terribly shallow and cynical metaphor for love and relationships: everyone’s the same, then one person is magically different, but even that fades over time. But then I read a little bit about the movie, and discovered that this is actually a real psychological condition: some people really do believe that everyone else is the world is really just one other person dressed up in different disguises.  It’s called the Fregoli delusion… and the name of the hotel where Stone meets Lisa is the Fregoli.  There’s something more afoot here than I realized.

And so I watched it a second time, and looked for clues as to what Kaufman’s really up to.  And now I think that “Anomalisa” is about love and relationships in the same way that “Starship Troopers” is about war. It’s a subtle satire, one that adopts popular attitudes about its subject in order to show just how delusional and destructive they are.  Kaufman isn’t saying that love is like the Fregoli delusion; he’s saying that if we fall for the idea, so ubiquitous in romantic movies and literature and music, that love is like the Fregoli delusion — if we believe that all the world is dull until ONE person is suddenly different, captivating, and perfect — we are going to end up lonely, bored and depressed.

 

 

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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