A Review and Analysis of Anomalisa

Anomalisa is a well-crafted extended metaphor ripe with wit, visual interest, and tragic folly. Directed by Charlie Kaufman of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame, and Duke Johnson, who specializes in stop-motion animation. Existing in the realm somewhere between live action and animation, comedy and tragedy, this dichotomous film was both engaging by escaping and confronting the human existence. Though I take issue with a few points of the film, I’d highly recommend everyone see it. Spoilers to follow, as this is more of an analysis than a review. An revalysis.

The plot is dense and rich, with metatextual references strewn throughout. Fregoli is both the name of the hotel in which Michael stays and the delusion he seems to have — that everyone in the world is the same person. Like a spoiler implanted in the film itself, knowing about the fregoli delusion would take away some of the slow discovery of realizing his flawed world view — but that doesn’t matter. There are no twist endings or spoilers in a film about the mind of a depressed self-help author. Despite this bleak topic, the film is riotously funny at times. Small visual jokes speckle the plot. The situation vaguely spoofs the business world, as Michael is a touring on the success of his book Let Me Help you Help Them, which multiple sources proclaim to have helped them increase productivity by 90%. The crux of the action is Michael finding Lisa, the only other person who has a distinct voice and face in the world. Hearing her voice down from his hotel room, he seeks her out. That the entire story hinges on their encounter, it seems a thin connection.

The question is whether his delusion is simply that or if it’s a metaphor who how he sees the world. Is Lisa intrinsically different, leading to his attraction to her, or does she appear to be so because of his perception? That he heard her voice in the hallway supports the first situation, but because she changes into everyone else as he criticizes her over breakfast, I’d like to think it’s his perception that changed, not Lisa. It’s not outside the realm of the real — romantic partners sometimes lose their lustre over time, from magical, sexy creatures to normal, annoying humans. It is implied that this happened with his ex-lover who he meets at the bar. He asks her if she thinks she’s changed in any way, probably referencing how she is now one of the clones.

Michael is certainly breaking down, that much is clear. His fascination with his face in the mirror, almost pulling it off, may show that there could be some self-awareness of his puppet-ness, or it could simply be an evocative visual. No matter the intention of the mirror scene, he is clearly unstable when giving his presentation. Sweating, ranting, and marching, this proves that he is not well. I wonder when this pattern started, and if that matters. One way to interpret the delusion is a manifestation of his guilt for leaving his ex-lover. Now everyone looks and sounds like her, but because he thinks she changed, and the obvious parallels between her and Lisa, this is unlikely. It’s more likely that he’s chronically narcissistic and unfulfilled and projects those disappointments onto all other people, imagining them as replaceable and interchangeable — even though he’s essentially a traveling salesman, not remarkable in any way.

Michael is the perfect likable, terrible character. His despair is relatable enough to keep the audience’s empathy, but his obvious shortcomings keep the story to be too maudlin. He seems to have brought his hardship upon himself. He’s unhappy, he can’t seem to find joy in little things, and he’s lonely — but he also cheats on his wife, treats others poorly, and doesn’t seem to respect women. On the other hand, Lisa is impossibly naive, like many girls are at some point. She’s just happy for the attention — to her, Michael is a rock star. The sex scene between them was remarkable because it was the most realistic depiction of sex I’ve seen in a film. Neither glamorous, nor explicitly sexy, their awkwardness and imperfect bodies were at the forefront. I wonder why it took puppets to see an honest portrayal of sex, but it was incredibly refreshing.

I think this film, like the sex scene, depended on the medium of stop motion animation. Having the characters look and sound the same would be reduced to a gimmick in a live-action film. One actor playing all of the supporting roles. Because it’s a quiet film, the audience can revel in the artistry it takes to craft such lifelike characters, and make them move fluidly through space. The puppets’ hyper realistic faces with pronounced seams keep them shy of the uncanny valley, but this is appropriate for the tone of the film, slightly off.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this film to everyone. Full of imagery and metaphor, you’ll be discussing it weeks after seeing it. It’s beautiful, tragic, and most importantly, intelligently written. It is the ultimate rejection of logical conclusion of the special snowflake syndrome, and deconstruction of the romantic-chance-encounter archetype of film.  9/10.

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