Amateurs experimenting with hallucinogenics are usually advised against driving, staying away from balconies and listening to Pink Floyd. Anomalisa, a stop-motion drama directed by the preternaturally sensitive Charles Kaufman, should be instantly added to this list, with its unremitting and harrowing sense of dread that serves as an undercurrent through every scene of the film, which on the surface, is about a very mundane couple of days in the life of a middle-aged man. If you aren’t careful, you can walk away from Anomalisa with a marginal and hopefully temporary affliction of the delusion that Michael Stone has, technically called the Fregoli Delusion, a condition which, broadly speaking, causes the sufferer to view only himself or herself as a unique individual. This last is not a subjective opinion, Kaufman intended this as the film mostly takes place in a hotel called the Fregoli.
Anomalisa is the film equivalent of The Catcher in the Rye, a weird day or two in the life of a troubled, disillusioned misanthrope, in a futile search for meaning and purpose. Michael Stone plays a successful writer and authority on customer service (a field that contradicts everything about him), travelling to Cincinnati for a speech he has been invited to give. He is jaded and morose to a painful degree, in fact to the extent that he views every human, including his wife and son, as carbon copies of one another. The film does this so brilliantly that his strange outlook actually makes perfect sense to the audience. He eventually runs into Lisa at the hotel, who intrigues her because she looks and sounds different from everyone else and hence appears unique to him.
There is no specific storyline, as it’s more of a thought piece about a vision of the world through the eyes of a troubled man. What makes it captivating to watch is that the man and the world are are painfully regular, but at complete odds with one another, and it remains constantly unclear who’s wrong or what’s messed-up, the man or the world.
This is not an easy movie to appreciate, as it requires depth, patience and an open-mind. The reward is in David Thewlis’ incredibly deadpan though somehow expressive dialogue delivery as the voice of Michael Stone and the technical brilliance of the puppets who serve as the actors and whose appearance and movements render Kaufman’s vision and script about life through Michaels’s eyes with precision and varying degrees of detailed subtlety. I highly recommend Aomalisa, at it’s worst it’s refreshingly different from anything you’ve ever seen, and at best it’s disturbingly sensitive and a film that will stay with you for a long time.
JWD Film Review Rating 4/5
(Reviewer: Rabindra Dube)