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ARTS & CULTUREFILM REVIEW
ANOMALISA—Is Your Life Special?
Lee Hye Min  |  min4562@korea.ac.kr
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승인 2016.05.02  20:08:10
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▲ The Fregoli Delusion. Provided by www.independent.co.uk.

“Life is full of surprises,” they say, but what if your life is not? For people who are feeling emptiness in their hearts, the film Anomalisa (2015) might give them a little sympathy, maybe relief. The movie touches the deepest fear of all humans—why is my life not special like the ones in dramas, or even like those living next door?

Those who might be expecting a cheerful, touching story about life will be more than surprised to find this film Anomalisa, for it is rather filled with futility. Unlike other animation movies, it is not for children, but for adults who want to escape their boring life. During the movie, the director Charlie Kaufman constantly asks the viewers, “What is life and who are we?”

The main character of this film is a common middle- aged customer service guru, Michael Stone, who goes on a business trip to Cincinnati to give presentations at a small business conference. Yet, he has a big secret. For him, everyone he meets has the same affectless, robotic voice which is that of same actor Tom Noonan. A taxi driver, a hotel receptionist, a waiter, his wife and son, even his ex- girlfriend from ten years ago with whom he was expecting to spend a special reunion night together sound exactly the same.

 

   
▲ Anomalisa co-director Duke Johnson moving the mannequin. Provided by Paramount Pictures.

A turning point appears when he hears a different woman’s voice from another room by chance. Attracted by her special voice, Michael spends the night together with the woman, Lisa, believing that she will be the one to change his tiresome life. However, after he suggests Lisa that they get married and she agrees, he finds out something strange. Her little habits start to bother him and most importantly, her special voice also turns into the same robotic voice like the others. After all, he realizes, she was not the special one and no one will ever be.

The most notable feature of the film is its stagecraft, filmed in stop-motion. Stop-motion is an animation technique to move objects in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when it is played as a continuous sequence. The characters are soft-skinned, bright-eyed mannequins which look surprisingly alive, also revealing the very emotion and movement of real human beings.

This rather new method of directing is extremely hard to shoot, but there are certain special values stop-motion film has. As Tim Burton describes, stop-motion is the process of “bringing a dead thing to life.” Anomalisa, with 1,261 separate faces for the characters, 118,089 frames of film and with the help of psychologists and physicists, most effectively portrays the genuine emotion and movements that computer-generated imagery (CGI) cannot capture.

Moreover, as viewers find out more about the movie, they will realize that it contains more messages than they thought. The title, Anomalisa, is a coined word of “anomaly” and the main character’s name Lisa. Being called an anomaly might not sound pleasant for some, but for Lisa, who always struggled to be special in her life, it is the very thing she longs to hear. Anomalisa is also the magic word which connects the minds of two imperfect people—one who is searching for exceptionality and one who wants to be the exceptionality.

The director also introduces the interesting concept of mental disease, which is well-hidden under the name of the hotel Michael stayed at—Fregoli. The actual name of the disease is “Fregoli delusion,” a psychiatric disorder in which the sufferer believes everyone in the world is the same person, and therefore hardly distinguishes them. As mentioned earlier, by purposely using one actor’s voice for all characters except Michael and Lisa, the viewers can assume that Michael is suffering from this disease.

On top of these interesting features, the director Charlie Kaufman’s distinct style of directing once again shines in this movie. His previous works such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Being John Malkovich (1999) and this movie share a similar characteristic—they are all about one ordinary human being, and they all happen in one character’s head overnight. Once more, the viewers can look deep inside an ordinary person’s consciousness, surprised by the fact that it looks exactly the same as their own minds.

Some critics of this movie are uncomfortable with the fact that Michael is actually having an affair, but the scene is described as he is finding the true love of his life like the first time. However, through these scenes, Anomalisa tells us uncomfortable truths about the emptiness and futility that one might feel in one’s relationship, work and life. It might not be dramatic like Michael’s, but many would have felt a sense of loneliness when lying in bed alone, especially in an anonymous hotel in a strange city.

Of course, life is full of surprises. However, they do not come every time. Also, these surprising moments shine brighter when they rise up upon the routine and usual life. Love is also the same. Partners who stay together for a long time might not have the freshness like the first time, but staying together is what really matter in one’s life—even though many people often forget. In the movie, Michael could not find any novelty after his short misdemeanor, but for the ones living the real life, routine is not bad after all—it is all about finding the unusual in the usual.

Film Information
Title: Anomalisa (2014)
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama
Rating: R for mature language and some sexuality/nudity
Runtime: 90 minutes
Directors: Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman
Writers: Charlie Kaufman

 

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