I love Anomalisa and, just like the main character, I’m not sure I know why yet. Perhaps it’s because Anomalisa sticks out visually from most movies like a sharp tack sticks out physically in a blanket fort. Perhaps it’s because I sadly see myself reflected in the tiny puppet of Michael Stone. Perhaps it’s because it’s just a really well made movie.
I cannot praise the art of Anomalisa enough. Most animated features take you to a fantastical world full of wild creations and warped perspectives. Anomalisa takes you to a hotel in Cincinnati. That’s pretty much it. There are a few shots in an airport, a couple shots in a store and some shots in a house. Those scenes aside, you spend the entire movie in a hotel.
Basing the movie in such a grounded environment could have backfired had the art department not knock it out of the park. Most humans know what a hotel looks like. Artists can’t fudge it. Compare that to other stop-motion movies. Do you know what a Halloween town looks like? How about a giant peach full of anthropomorphic bugs?
Anomalisa needed absolute realism to keep the viewer engaged. It’s a lot easier to get consumed by the story and characters when the fine details blur into reality. Whether we consciously think about it, we know chairs have stitching along the seams. We know how light reflects. We know what penises look like.
Speaking of which, I want to shake the hand of the animator who spent weeks artfully bending a miniature giant dildo millimeters at a time. The giggling vibrations were visceral, beyond anything I’d ever seen before and beyond anything ever see again. The weight, texture and density were tangible, as if I took were holding a gigantic electric penis.
You can fudge fantasy, it doesn’t exist. But the world of Anomalisa needed to be real.
While the artwork is spectacular, what good are props when they are not propped up by a proper story? Anomalisa does tells a relatively simple story. Man is depressed. Man meets woman. Man falls in love. It’s pretty formulaic, or so it seems.
The emotional journey that Michael Stone travels grabbed me and took me with him. I can’t say I really wanted to go and I kind of wish nothing in this movie resonated with me. Michael Stone isn’t that great of a person. He does some pretty crappy things. His mind is warped in some pretty crappy ways.
My mind is warped too I guess.
I do find comfort in knowing that others may struggle with the same issues presented in Anomalisa. How do you find the beauty and uniqueness around you? How do you break out of your mundane existence to feel love? How do you stop yourself from looking backward when reality is in front of you?
Ultimately the strength of Anomalisa really comes from the perfect script and perfect voice work. Based on a short play written by the director (Charlie Kaufman) and starring the same actors, it’s obvious that everybody involved knows exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. There is purpose in everything.
I didn’t know a lot about the movie before I started watching it. I honestly spent the beginning of the movie wondering why Anomalisa was stop-motion animated. I wondered why characters sounded so similar. I wondered why the visual effects team left seams on the puppets. I wondered why I’m watching a movie about some sad puppet.
But slowly each question was answered. This movie had to be stop-motion animated. There was no other way to exhibit the deep emotions lurking underneath the seams. The surrealism of the world created a safe place for me to openly express my inner struggle. A struggle that’s to real for my real world.