Anomalisa (2015)
January 27, 2016 8:20 PM - Subscribe

A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary. Stop-motion animated film written and directed by Charlie Kaufman.
posted by theodolite (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I loved this movie. Loved it so much. It's fascinating to me because I heard/read somewhere that it didn't start as a stop motion animated project, it just developed into that, which is weird because one of the main "gimmicks" relies on animation (multiple characters sharing the same voice).

I've actually seen it twice already because it was the only thing playing that I would see again, and it surprisingly held up to a repeat viewing. The exchange with the old girlfriend at the bar is much more interesting when you know how the new "girlfriend" situation will pan out.

Also, it's flat it ridiculous to imagine a group of people spending weeks and months slaving over puppets to get them to do silly things like inserting their hotel room key multiple times in order to get it to work. Very difficult movie to recommend since it's clearly not for everybody, though.
posted by dogwalker at 10:46 PM on January 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I sure can't say I enjoyed this movie, but it was fascinating and it lingered in the mind. I've read some things where people kind of rolled their eyes, like, "Oh, God, another story about a middle aged guy and a younger woman!" But this is so not a romance or even some Lost in Translation deal.

I was cringing as he pursued this poor girl, because she was such a sweet and innocent person and she had no idea how messed up and desperate this guy was. When she's singing Girls Just Want to Have Fun and stuff, I think we're supposed to be loving how guileless and awkward she is at the same that we realize this guy is making a terrible, terrible mistake. He's being incredibly selfish and taking advantage of this poor woman who has been hurt so much already. But he's clearly having a nervous breakdown (or else he's slipped into a parallel world or something and THAT's driving him crazy) and you can kind of sympathize with his doing absolutely anything to try and escape his bizarre situation. He's stuck in hell, and he's desperate to believe this woman is his way out.

The ending didn't really work for me, because it didn't really resolve his situation either way. It seems like his syndrome (or whatever we'd call it) is getting worse, like he's cracking up. But where does it go from there? Does his career fall apart? Does he get divorced? Does he end up homeless and wandering the streets, thinking the whole world loves him? Who knows! It didn't feel like artful ambiguity, it just felt like it... stopped.

The theater in LA where I saw this had a big box display in the lobby with the actual puppets in the hotel room set. That was freaky as hell. Imagine going to see a movie like that and then coming out to find the stars being frozen little dolls in that sad little room.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:26 AM on January 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I love stop-motion but the use of it here seemed to actually detract from the films central theme. It took me way too long to realize that everyone had the same face even though the voice should have been a clue. Instead it looked like the faces were poorly rendered and everyone just looked alike unintentionally. I think it would have been a much stronger visual film if done in live action and Tom Noonan's face was digitized on each person we encounter. Perhaps another viewing is in order now that I know what Kaufman was trying to convey but on first viewing it left me disappointed.
posted by cazoo at 8:59 AM on January 28, 2016

I really, really don't think this would have worked at all as a live action film. It would be almost impossible to create an effect with all the other characters but Michael and Lisa having the same face in a way that would not be incredibly distracting. I think animation is the only way this could have been pulled off, at least without spending millions of dollars on special effects that may not even really work. The animation was an elegant and practical solution to the problem of how to make the audience really experience Michael's delusion and isolation.

Additionally, I don't think it's a failing of the approach that it takes a while to realize all the characters have the same face. I didn't realize it until well into the movie, either, but once I did the magnitude of Michael's delusion suddenly snapped into focus. If it was a live action film and every character had the same face (especially if it was modeled on an actual person), the viewer would likely realize it much sooner but I think that delayed moment of realization is an important and intentional part of the design of the film.
posted by tomorrowromance at 11:44 AM on January 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

I've thought about this movie a lot since seeing it, but what I thought about most of all was my wife saying, "I've never thought of myself as a feminist, but you could tell that movie was not written by a woman."

I had a deep sense of discomfort when Michael Stone's character appeared to be attracted to Lisa for no other reason than because she appeared to be somehow different to him. He's primarily interested in her only because of things that are physical--her different voice, her scar. He listens to her talk and sing, but my feeling it was only because he was enamored with the physical quality of her voice, not with the substance of what she was telling him. He gets her drunk, isolates her from her friend, pushes the action until he sleeps with her, and discards her the next morning when he realizes that she's essentially just the same as everyone else who he hates.

That wasn't the worst part for me, by far--that, to me, seemed tragic--he was suffering from some kind of mental illness, apparently, and I can imagine a tender, but still gutwrenching story that could be wrung from a situation where a delusional, selfish man hurts a lonely, unsuspecting woman. Sometimes those are just the consequences of mental illness: the fallout can be widespread. But what left me the most unsettled that Lisa, apparently, was happy about the encounter, because I guess the most that someone as insecure and lonely as her can hope for is a one night stand with someone who is not famous enough to even be featured on something like "Help I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!"

I wasn't even sure how much to attribute his hurtfulness to his mental illness, either--we were led to believe he was in the past equally as cruel to Bella, who at least by this point in her life can say no to him. My sense was that he was just a terrible misogynist the entire time, and his delusions only made his impact on the women he encountered more acute, they didn't change the nature of it.

And, maybe it was a consequence of the choice to make all characters but Michael and Lisa to be identical, but it was kind of uncomfortable choice for the filmmakers to signal to us that Lisa's friend Emily is supposed to be conventionally attractive by making her blonde-haired and large-chested.

I don't know. Maybe I should give Kaufman some more credit here--he had to be aware of how deeply misogynistic Michael was when he had him bring back, as a gift for his child, a Japanese sex doll, right? Women aren't people to Michael, they're objects, I assume we can infer from that.

As difficult as it would have been to watch Lisa's character completely broken by her encounter with the shitbag Michael, I think that's what it would have taken for this movie to redeem itself for me. I was up for something sad, but it turns out what I watched made me much sadder--just in a way I hadn't anticipated.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:55 PM on January 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

I sure didn't get the impression Lisa was happy at the end. She was saying she'd had a nice time, but the subtext to me was that her heart was broken and she was just minimizing her own pain and saying everything was fine, the way she had so, so many times before.

I'd agree that this felt like a movie made by a man, but to me that was one of the strengths of it. It got inside the head of a middle aged guy who is fucking up his life and other people in ways that are (traditionally) very male. It's a male midlife crisis turned into a surreal nightmare. I didn't get the feeling that Kaufman thought Michael was doing the right thing, or that Michael truly believed he was either. As he gets to know Lisa her pain and loneliness and naivete are so raw, she's like a kid almost. I think Michael mostly pursues her because he's so desperate to hear a new voice and see a new face, but she seems like a very good person and I think he's drawn to that too. He makes her a symbol, his chance to start over fresh, but she has a very distinct personality that draws him in too. You can't not love her a little when she's singing Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, even as it makes her pain so pitifully plain. Her great aspiration is just have some fun, and be the one who walks in the sun.

I haven't heard the original radio play, but my understanding is that her disfigurement is unspecified. In the film her scar is just enough that you can see how it would be something that would trouble her, but it's not enough to make her ugly like she thinks. It's the kind of thing that would loom a lot larger on your own face than it would on somebody else's. She's so much better than she thinks she is, in so many ways. I could get why Michael loves her, even as I wanted to scream at him that he was using her and it was wrong.

I also didn't realize until some way in that everybody had the same face, and I don't know how that aspect would have played if the film was live-action. (At one point we hear a dog bark in the hotel, and I'm pretty sure that was Noonan too.) I think it would have been more obviously grotesque, seeing women and children with Tom Noonan's plain and very male face, and it wouldn't have crept up on you the same way. I think the distancing effect of the stop-motion was quite intentional and effective. This man's life isn't moving right, nothing feels quite real and he's surrounded by puppets. He's a puppet too, and his parts are falling off.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:35 PM on January 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

I could get why Michael loves her, even as I wanted to scream at him that he was using her and it was wrong.

I missed the editing window on this one (and technically we're only supposed to fix typos anyhow) but saying he loves her was probably kind of overstating it. I think she's so sad and endearing, and he's so lost and desperate, that he feels an immediate and powerful connection with her. That connection is kind of messed up because he's trying to turn her into his salvation and he's much more sophisticated than she is and there are all sorts of power imbalances there. But I think he pities her and likes her and she seems different from everybody else, and he briefly convinces himself that's love.

The commercials for this were kind of funny and kind of gross, because they put inspirational music over it and picked every superficially happy shot they could find and handpicked lines where he's telling her she's extraordinary and stuff. They really made it look like a feel-good love story, and Jesus, it sure ain't that.

My girlfriend was freaked out by the puppet sex. And the audience we saw the movie with found that stuff unaccountably hilarious. Actually there were a LOT of weird lines the audience laughed at. It seemed like they were watching some whole other movie, because to me there were some dark chuckles in this thing but mostly it was sad, sad, sad.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:24 AM on January 29, 2016

It's interesting to me that people are treating Michael as a human person capable of things like love and mental illness. I never saw him as anything more than a puppet.

I laughed at quite a few parts, but I also felt it was sad too. I'm sure sometime in the future I'll watch this again and some parts that were funny will be super duper sad and the sad might parts might be funny then.
posted by dogwalker at 10:56 AM on January 29, 2016

Michael is a customer service guru. His message is to find what's uniquely valuable in each customer, something he has become increasingly unable to do in his own life. He knows this , but doesn't know what to do about it. His driver gives him unwanted advice predicated on the belief that everyone likes the same things. His hotel room is like all other hotel rooms.

If we allow it, we understand and share his dilemma, though not in the extreme characterization that only a movie can create. We are unique to ourselves. Others are, well, others. We know better but our knowledge is difficult to put into practice. Occasionally, we meet someone whom we can't turn into a cliche and it's beautiful, until the honeymoon is over. We are pattern matchers and if someone or something doesn't fit the pattern, we eventually figure out how to solve this puzzle. Someone who defeats all our attempts would be labeled "crazy" and locked up or crucified.

When Michael gives his speech and tries to deviate from the norm, he is himself an anomaly and a threat. He is also a threat to himself and the pressure returns the situation to "normalcy."

It's not that Lisa is happy at the end. She was hurt and got over it. She's been scarred before. But she is outside Michael's living, self-created hell.

And, yes, it's a cartoon that exaggerates certain aspects of reality for effect, and that itself is a little annoying. It's too pat and too didactic. But it's different--an anomaly among movies. We can appreciate that.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:04 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

He is also a threat to himself and the pressure returns the situation to "normalcy."

I don't know that things do go back to "normal" though. He goes home to his family, but he creates an awkward scene at the party and gives his kid the weird little sex toy and his wife seems really fed up. "Normal" might be that he goes through the motions at the party, but we know how much he's suffering. This wasn't that. It seemed to me like he was still on the brink of a total breakdown. His meltdown during the speech could be a career killer, but we can only guess what kind of effect it had.

(I wasn't sure how to take the line in his speech about the president being a "war criminal". Without getting deep into the politics of it, that's an accusation that's lobbed at W a lot more often than Obama. The play debuted during Bush's administration and during Michael's dream I think we see a portrait of W on the wall of the hotel manager's office. That would seem to set the action a few years ago, but then I remember we see the date at some point in the film and I'm pretty sure it was 2015. Does Michael think Bush is still president? Or is he a lot more left-wing than he seems, enough that he'd call Obama a war criminal? Or is it meant to just be ranting that indicates he's losing his grip? It seemed like this really extreme, polarizing political statement that came out of nowhere.)

It's not that Lisa is happy at the end. She was hurt and got over it.

I'd have to see the end again. I had the feeling she was just putting on a smile, but maybe she's less upset about the whole thing than I thought.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:18 PM on February 1, 2016

I'm pretty sure it's set in 2005 or 2006.

Also, I probably shouldn't have said Lisa was "happy" and left it at that. My impression was that she was hurt, but more like she had this rosy, wistful sort of better to have had a one night stand and lost than to never have had the one night stand at all attitude. It made me feel that all things considered, she will still look back fondly on her encounter with Michael. I still find that hard to take, but I realize that calling her "happy" doesn't describe her mindset at the end perfectly well.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:26 PM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think it's 2005. The "about Cincinnati" magazine in the hotel room is the September 2005 issue and I doubt the Fregoli is more than a month behind. Also, Lisa mentions that she and her friend checked the atlas for directions to Cincinnati which also struck me as very not 2015. So I figured the "war criminal" president rant was referring to Bush.
posted by dogwalker at 5:33 PM on February 1, 2016

I do like the theory that the whole affair with Lisa is a fantasy -- Lisa is the sex toy that he bought and gave to his son. They have scars in the same places, and she just happens to have a Japanese-English dictionary. The sex toy also sings with a non-Noonan voice.
posted by benzenedream at 9:48 PM on March 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I do like the theory that the whole affair with Lisa is a fantasy

That idea never even occurred to me. If I see the movie again, I'll see if that seems to square with what happens. My instincts say that she was real, but then again the movie is such a weird stew of reality and hallucination and dreams, who the heck knows?

As for the year the movie is set, does she give a date in the letter at the end? I could swear there was something in there to suggest the movie was set in 2015, but maybe it was 2005 and I misread it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:49 AM on March 17, 2016

When Michael is in the manager's office there's a portrait of George W. Bush on the wall. Of course that's a dream sequence. But when at the end we hear Lisa's letter it's dated 2005, ten years after the date of Donna's letter.
posted by matthewfells at 6:14 AM on March 18, 2016

Despite being excited by all the talk and trailers of this movie, when the wife and I finally got to see it, we were bored out of our minds. It was terrible story, relying on the middle aged man seducing the young woman to find himself/happiness trope. The additional of being mentally disturbed doesn't help at all.

I can see this working as a play, where it's clear that there's only three people from the getgo. The slow dawning of this in a film felt like some sort of odd trick that enhanced nothing and actually hurt the film. There's absolutely nothing to like in Michael, nor any reason to give a damn about his problems, other to try and stop him from bumbling around and hurting other people.

No idea how people saw this as deeply human, it was about as alien as...shit, scifi films with actual aliens have had more warm and likable characters. Not that one has to like a character in a movie! But at least make them interesting.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:22 PM on April 3, 2016

I saw this tonight and Hail, Caesar! yesterday... I want to get the Cohens and Kaufmans in a room and be like, c'mon dudes, you have to do better. Both movies seemed like they were missing an act or something.

I do like the theory that the whole affair with Lisa is a fantasy -- Lisa is the sex toy that he bought and gave to his son. They have scars in the same places, and she just happens to have a Japanese-English dictionary. The sex toy also sings with a non-Noonan voice.

I thought they were parallel but it's interesting to think that there was no Lisa at all.

It seems strange to call it a "sex toy" when it's not obviously for sex. It's not like the big vibrator whose use is pretty clear; it's not a stereotypical blow-up doll, which maybe Emily is supposed to resemble, which Michael's also not interested in. Michael's attraction to Lisa is similarly sexualized but not directly sexual. He likes her voice, okay, but it's not obvious why that should lead to sex at all. Lisa and the toy are both attractive objects, to be acquired, fucked for some reason ("why all the fucking fucking?" as Bella asks in her letter at the very beginning), then abandoned because there's no joy in possession or affection or connection.

Making the characters puppets kind of removes humanity from them, but also removes the animal nature from what they do to. Michael's interest in Lisa is not humane, but nor is it simple sensual horniness either. It's weird gross puppet alien something, indirect and object oriented.

I have trouble caring enough to think about it though. Michael is just kind of garbage, I'm not sure if there was supposed to be anything redeeming or empathetic about his situation. Is this how everyone feels about Sideways?
posted by nom de poop at 11:27 PM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed it - I think it's always interesting when ideas are expressed in a surreal way like that, it leaves so much up to your own interpretation, what you find there can include a reflection of yourself. Reading the other comments, it's clear that everyone has taken the events in the film in totally different ways. I didn't find anything weird in how Lisa seemed happy at he end - I know it's totally possible for a woman to have a one night stand and be happy about that. And once she saw his odd behaviour during the speech, she wouldn't want anything to continue, she didn't have the same emotional involvement that he had. I liked how it took a while to really sink in that all the voices and faces were the same, you sort of felt his confusion and malaise before really knowing what was causing it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:08 AM on November 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

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