Review – Anomalisa (2015)

I started watching ‘Anomalisa’ with little to no knowledge on the background of the flick. I just happened to notice quite randomly on the movie database that it is an animated movie for adults. Okaaaay, intriguing enough. What a welcome change from the Kung Fu Pandas and the Madagascars and the Ice Ages. Not that I dislike them even to the slightest extent, just that an adult animated flick sounded way too exciting. And it was definitely not something like the South Park movie. So we have the opening shot of the sky and an aeroplane zooming by. There are in-flight announcements playing in the backdrop. Zoom-out right on to the protagonist’s face. And of all things, it looks grainy. Pause. Questions pop up in my head. #1 Am I watching the actual movie? #2 Is this like a work-in-progress copy? #3 What the F* is this? Alright, movin’ on. Presses play. Slowly and steadily, the entire thing grows on you. It looks a lot like actual puppets doing the actions and getting motion-captured. Very well. The first half hour is nearly spent in explaining how distressed our protagonist Michael Stone is, in life. He goes through the mundane procedures of getting a taxi, checking into a hotel, being welcomed by the housekeeping staff and so on. What keeps your attention in these generally uninteresting scenes is the fact that they are part of everyone’s lives and they’re pretty much inevitable. The mundanity is not forced at all. It is just too realistic to be ignored. The voices of all the people around Mr. Stone sound the same to him. Like the exact same. Man or woman. Wife or Son. Stranger or Friend. It is ALL just fuckin’ SAME.

So Mr. Stone happens to ‘stumble’ across two ladies Em and Lisa who are also in the city to attend the same talk which he is about to give (apparently on customer service) the next day.  The stumbling part is not accidental. Lisa seems to have the only female voice that his ears have given heed to, in years. And tantalized he is, yes. Stone hears this voice first while he is in the shower and he is desperate to meet its owner. He invites the ladies for drinks which they gladly accept because of his enormous popularity.

We get to the scene where Stone and Lisa are just by themselves in his room. She is chirpy and talkative and loves sing-alongs. Stone is smitten so much that he’s sure about wanting to kiss her and make love to her. Somewhere along the way, the relevance of the title ‘Anomalisa’ takes shape. Puppets making love? Certainly looks “out-of-the-box”. The rest of the movie is about a realization which I shall not be spoiling.

The viewer is taken back to square one just as the protagonist. Nothing has actually changed. It was all just another mystifying experience. The ideas of loneliness and isolation are depicted in a highly pragmatic fashion.

Coming to the most significant technical aspect of the film, the stop-motion animation. Let me quote Wikipedia on this: “Stop motion is an animation technique that physically manipulates an object that appears to move on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous sequence“. It should also be known to the subversive viewer that the utility of stop-motion was almost at a negligible level in the industry while computer animated features had completely taken over in the past few years, given the overwhelming success of movies like Minions. That by itself, makes Anomalisa a novel attempt. It is an endeavor that tries to revive stop-motion animation. The last few times this nerve-wracking yet ultimately-paying-off technique was applied gracefully were in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.

At the end of the day, it is an animated feature dealing with adult themes and the deep insides of the human mind. Charlie Kaufman’s dark shaded brushstrokes are applied abundantly in this work of art which was helmed using 3D printers. David Thewlis’ and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s voices lend life to Stone and Lisa. Trust me, they have done a brilliant job. It might have lost to Inside Out (which was another wonderful film) at the Oscars, but Anomalisa definitely leaves its mark and puts its point across very elegantly.

Now the movie enthusiast in me eagerly awaits the release of Guillermo Del Toro’s stop-motion take on Pinocchio.


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