Anomalisa is written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman, the mind behind other introspective works such as Being John Malkovich (1999) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). The story follows Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis (Harry Potter, Seven Years in Tibet), a middle-aged man on a business trip. As his plane touches down in Cincinatti, we start to wonder is this reality or are we seeing a warped world through Michael’s eyes. A unique, ultra-realistic animation style works to add to the surrealism and manages to easily avoid the uncanny-valley, there is so much life in the characters that the technique at hand is quickly forgotten. ‘Life’ is not to be confused with exuberance or energy, by ‘Life’ I mean the tragic, human emotions within us all. Michael suffers from the ‘Fregoli Delusion’, also known as ‘the delusion of doubles’, which means he views everyone the same; as if they were the same person, with the same face and the same voice- the voice of Tom Noonan (Heat, Last Action Hero), to be precise. This is until, in his hotel, he meets Lisa, who he sees and hears as unique. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, The Machinist) completes the trio of voices which make up the films cast, bringing a delicacy and naivety to Lisa, whom Michael ultimately takes advantage of. Michael can’t help but devour her individuality, declaring his love for her that night and burning rapidly through a range of emotions until he is as detached from her as he is from everything else. Soon enough her face and voice shift into the same style as the rest of the world and Michael returns to his family as unfulfilled and vacant as he was to start with.
Whilst the script is moving and laugh out loud funny at times, it is the voice-work that makes the characters so tragic and real in this bleakly touching picture. David Thewlis, as Michael, manages to bring a bleak, hopelessness to the questionable protagonist, his awkward Britishness serving to isolate Michael all the more. Jennifer Jason Leigh is heartbreaking as Lisa and Tom Noonan is excellent at providing the monotonous drone that is literally everybody else in the film.
Poignant in a way that far transcends its medium, Anomalisa is an introspective examination of what it is to be an emotionally detached human being. This bizarre animated film is hilarious, touching and miserable. A tragedy with no real resolution.