TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride 2015: Charlie Kaufman's Stop-Motion Romance 'Anomalisa'
by Alex Billington
September 7, 2015
I'm still not sure what to make of it. Anomalisa is a stop-motion animated film co-directed by the genius Charlie Kaufman and animator Duke Johnson. It's sort of Kaufman's attempt at romance, following a depressed main character tired of the mundanity of life around him, delving head first into the theme of identity. Along the way he meets a woman that, for reasons he can't really explain, he's attracted to. She's unique, different than everyone else, there's just something about her. I'm unsure if Anomalisa is simply brilliant, or brilliantly simple, in showing the importance of the connections we make with other people.
As with every Charlie Kaufman film, it's very hard to make sense of it upon first viewing. While there is a story and there are characters that we follow, there's so much more depth behind every moment. There's so many layers to peel back that reveal the truth about how we think. And more often than not, what we're seeing on screen challenges us, the audience, in our own personal ways. Even if we figure it out, there's still more questions. Did this mean that, does this mean this? Maybe the whole point is that we're even asking any questions at all. It's not a watch and forget kind of experience, it's the kind you keep thinking about.
On the surface, Anomalisa is a very simple story. The stop-motion animation work is unlike any stop-motion I've seen before, but is still impressive. The characters are designed to look realistic, but some still feel fake - on purpose. As the film progresses, you start to realize this animation and character design is actually an intimate part of the film itself. At one point, one of the characters starts to dislodge his lower facial piece. No, this isn't an animation mistake, it's one of Kaufman's very nuanced identity crisis moments. So much so that this person is literally losing their face, the most important part of ourselves that makes us identifiable.
The discussions I've been having with friends about this film at Telluride have ranged from - is it really that simple (no way!), to, what does it all mean? How much more is hidden beneath such simple scenes? There's the idea that it's about the way we connect, and then disconnect, from people for such brief amounts of time. Does that mean we should hold onto those people? Maybe. Maybe not. There's another idea that it's about identity, and how our relationships and decisions define our identity. Then there's the basic synopsis that says it's just about a depressed guy who doesn't know what to do and screws up every encounter he meets.
Maybe it's all of that, maybe its none of it. Maybe it's up for every one of us to decide on our own, and figure out for ourselves. Maybe that's what makes for a really intelligent film. Maybe only Charlie Kaufman knows.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing