Anomalisa: Here's What Made the Charlie Kaufman Movie So Heartbreaking – MovieWeb

Anomalisa: Here's What Made the Charlie Kaufman Movie So Heartbreaking – MovieWeb

An in-depth look into how Charlie Kaufman’s movie Anomalisa tells a heartbreaking story about the human experience.
Charlie Kaufman is a filmmaker synonymous with nuanced stories of the human experience. His notable screenplays include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Adaptation, and I’m Thinking of Ending Things. All of these films explore, in some way, emotional connection and psychological turmoil. However, the 2015 stop-motion picture entitled Anomalisa combines the most realistic elements of the human experience with unnatural fragments of the imagination, often leading to some of the most meta movies ever made.
The film is strange, but intentionally so. Despite being presented in the stop-motion animation format, Anomalisa is one of the most realistic depictions of conversational mundanity. But there is something so real about protagonist Michael Stone (David Thewils) and his encounter with the outside world, a grim reality that's nothing short of mundane banality. Michael's depression and his perception of reality affects his home life and his professional career. From the very first sequence we are exposed to how Michael experiences the world. As the film progresses, the experiences become more and more heartbreaking.
Anomalisa portrays mundanity and blandness in a unique way that makes the film almost unsettling to watch. Every single person who Michael Stone encounters is in fact the same person, with one actor playing many characters. Their voices, faces, and manner of expression are all the same. This could become uncomfortable for audiences members after 15 minutes, but we don’t know how long Michael has experienced this version of reality.
While it is a mere representation of how no one in his life, family or colleagues, has sparked any bit of light from his soul, it is the best way to get audiences inside his head. Ironically, the voice of everyone else in the film is that of the great Tom Noonan, who portrays dark-hearted characters in movies like Manhunter and hit series such as The X-Files, The Blacklist and Law and Order.
Related: Every Charlie Kaufman Movie, Ranked
While it is important to note the voices and faces are all one and the same, it is also crucial to examine the conversations Michael has with nearly everyone he encounters. All the conversations, either with a cab driver or a bellhop, are just boring. Michael is incredibly uninterested in diving into the intensity of conversations about the weather and chili, but who would be? The conversations, from a screenwriting perspective, are drawn out to truly exploit how mundane and empty these talks can be. Interactions just become melded together with faceless bodies in Michael’s life, and it's truly understandable why he is desperate to find someone new.
When Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) comes into Michael’s life, the audience feels just as liberated as he does to hear a new voice. We begin to spend an entire evening of charming, utterly authentic romance and conversation between these characters. However, by becoming so intimate with both characters, it becomes less new. When things lose their novelty, it becomes mundane for Michael. Seeing Lisa morph into “everyone else” is as sad and heartbreaking as watching a character die on screen. She loses what was new about her, and Michael immediately puts her into this box he puts everyone else in. The nit-picking that occurs the next morning, where he observes her quirks and things he did not notice before, is what makes her all in the same for the protagonist.
Lisa is a character who has low self-esteem. However, Michael initially seems to love everything about her, regardless of her self perception. For example, Lisa has a large scar on her face, which Michael finds beautiful. The scar is just one piece of Lisa that Michael falls in love with… for one night. Soon, the minutiae becomes overbearing for him. Tongue-clicking and open-mouth chewing absorb Lisa back into the general bubble of humanity Michael sees and hears on a daily basis. It is sad to see Lisa fade away just as we (and Michael) got to know her. She becomes everyone else, dull and a distant memory in Michael’s life.
Anomalisa explores the idea of humanity and what components make up being human. During Michael’s explosive speech about customer service at the end of the film, he brings up the idea of individuality.
Each person you speak to has had a day. Some of the days have been good, some bad, but they’ve all had one. Each person you speak to has had a childhood. Each has a body. Each body has aches.
How ironic that Michael’s definition of humanity revolves around individuality. But Michael is exposed to the same person over and over again and empty conversations that lead him nowhere. This does not seem to phase anyone else in Michael’s world except for him. That loneliness is just heartbreaking to experience for a character. When we finally see him latch onto another individual, he ultimately loses her to the abyss of banal anonymity as well. Perhaps this is because of his inability to be with someone other than himself; maybe there's a solipsistic narcissism to a man who sees everyone around him as exactly the same, and only himself as an individual.
Related: Anomalisa Review: Charlie Kaufman Reinvents Stop Motion
Michael’s career centers around speaking as well. The film mentions voices quite a lot, and it is one of the creative liberties Kaufman took to showcase the lack of individuals in Michael’s world. The third act of the film even leads to a speech. Michael asks Lisa to just talk about her day, sing and never stop speaking or making sounds, while everyone else in his life he can hardly hear a single word come from their mouth. Michael is desperate for something new, as are we as the audience. But maybe being a decent human involves finding comfort and acceptance in the fact that we're all the same, rather than the heartbreaking terror and hubristic loneliness Michael experiences.
The film does a brilliant job of putting us in the character’s head and having us feel what he is feeling. When his sudden joy over Lisa is lost and the character has an existential crisis, we share his feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. Michael goes back to his family, who are no different from the masses, and just sits there. He winds up alone in a house filled with everyone in his world that “love him.”

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