If you’re really good at showing the honest, tangible fragility of human beings in the films that you write or direct, why would you make a stop-motion movie with puppets? Not only that, but the puppet characters in Charlie Kaufman‘s Anomalisa are obviously puppets. The seams on the puppets’ interchangeable faces are clearly visible, and some artifacts of the animation process aren’t concealed. Maybe it’s due to the fact that all the characters in protagonist Michael Stone’s (David Thewlis) life look and sound the same (portrayed by Tom Noonan). Just like in Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, where Caden Cotard shows a lot of symptoms of Cotard’s syndrome, Stone experiences the Fregoli delusion – the belief that different people are all the same person.
Michael Stone, a self-help author who is traveling to an motivational speaking engagement, is distant and jaded when he checks into a hotel for the night. His relationship with his wife and son is obviously cold and simply going through the motions, and he has obvious doubts and anxiety. At the end of the film, I still hadn’t quite figured out why this film was animated. But the fact that the human tenderness of the characters was so clear, switches the focus to the flaws in animation – a physical manifestation of Stone’s mental anxieties.
Anomalisa is one of the most human films I’ve seen – a story about encountering an anomaly that disrupts your mundane existence. Kaufman’s script (co-directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson) is an introspective story about what it’s like to be human. It can rightly be called a psychological horror film in the sense that it investigates what scares us most – more than monsters or serial killers ever can: to be human. Just like most of Kaufman’s previous films, Anomalisa is so familiar, tangible, surreal and spectacular, that it’s actually scary. It’s by no means a clear-cut winner of a film. Everyone definitely won’t like it. But fans probably will: as the newest addition to Charlie Kaufman’s oeuvre, it’s at least on par.
Anomalisa releases in South African cinemas today (4 March 2016). It was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film Academy Award, and has won awards at the Austin Fantastic Fest, Mill Valley Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists Awards.