US, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: David Thewliss, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan.
Directed by Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman.
It has been pointed out that the title of this film, Anomalisa, is an anagram for a Mona Lisa, giving a clue as to the role of the female character, her presence in the life of Michael Stone, a man suffering from midlife crisis, her enigmatic presence, the magical smile which can transform anyone who watches her.
This is an animation film for adults, not for children. It is a work of Charlie Kaufmann whose films comprise Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, all films about male identity, crises and self-awareness. This is his first animation venture, in collaboration with Duke Johnson, originally a 40 minute work and voiced for radio by the present cast.
Michael Stone has written books on customer service and travels to a conference where he is to give a paper. He is already nervous on the plane to the city, mixups with the taxi, finding his room in the hotel, and undergoing a personal crisis, making reflect on his life, his wife and family, his work, and the reality of his own personality.
He is voiced by David Thewliss. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the voice of Lisa, with the touch of the mysterious, arousing Michael Stone out of his torpor in many ways. There are quite a number of other characters, male and female, but they are all voiced by Tom Noonan.
By the time Michael Stone comes to give his paper, he becomes bewildered, is in a state of mental and emotional collapse – and certainly in need of some kind of healing.
Critics have been very warm in their praise of Anomalisa and it received a number of nominations for animation. Because it is not the kind of film, story or treatment that most audiences will be expecting, it requires quite a deal of attention, concentrating on the character of Michael Stone and reflection on the issues.
1. Acclaim for the film, story, characters, animation style?
2. The story in characters, male midlife crisis?
3. The story as told in animation? How effective? In comparison with a more realistic approach with actors? The credibility? Audience accepting the devices?
4. The animation, stop-motion, stylised, comparisons with the realism approach? Layouts, the plane, airport, taxi ride, hotel, the room, interiors, corridors, basement, home? An authentic feel?
5. The colour palette, the humans, stylised? Jaws and masks, coming off in the night?
6. Everything from Michael Stone’s point of view, his trip, the memories of Lisa, the talk on the plane, the man holding his hand, arrival at the airport, the taxi, smoking and the driver’s asthma sign, the hotel, the request for the quiet room with smoking, the room, shower, room service, phone call to his wife and son, the plan to buy the toy, the sex shop – different toys, buying the Japanese mechanism, going to the conference, his talk, the publication of his book, Customer Service?
7. The night, the encounter with Belle, the past relationship, the collapse of the relationship, his rejection? At the hotel, the rooms and confusion, upset, the search, finding Emily and Lisa, the talk, the drink with Lisa, the night with her, the effect? His nightmare, the manager sending for him, the vast office space, the manager declaring that he was in love, Michael crossing the desks, all the people saying they were in love? His waking up? Breakfast with Lisa, the proposal, yet irritated by her scrambled eggs and the fork hitting her teeth, the food in her mouth? Lisa willing to go with him?
8. The reality, his being in crisis, his talk at the conference, following his text, going off on monologues, the anti-President outbursts, imitating the soldiers, his being booed? Lisa watching?
9. Lisa, the message, driving, the farewell?
10. Arriving home, the guests, the surprise party, his son and the Japanese doll, the semen, his wife, all the guests, his bewilderment?
11. The audience sharing his crisis – what future?