Deborah Ross

The human factor | 10 March 2016

It’s hard to know what this Charlie Kaufman stop-motion film is really about but it’ll get right under your skin

Anomalisa is an animated film written by Charlie Kaufman, and while the temptation is to label it a midlife crisis movie, because labels make life so much easier, it is not that clear-cut, just as it never is with Kaufman, who has always refused to explain himself. (Asked what his films are about, his stock response is: ‘It’s about an hour and half.’) I can only say the more you think about this after the event — and you will think about it constantly, as it sets up a sort of thrum under your skin — the more truth and sadness and humanity you will see in it. And it’s all been achieved with stop-motion animation of the kind that CGI was meant to kill off, but thankfully didn’t. It’s the same technique as used for Wallace and Gromit, although in that instance there were never any scenes featuring one puppet going down on another in a hotel room, as far as I can remember (and you’d think I would).

Directed by Kaufman (who wrote Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and directed Synecdoche, New York, all of which are ‘about an hour and a half’) and Duke Johnson, who specialises in stop motion, our protagonist is Michael Stone (as voiced by David Thewlis). Stone is a British customer-services expert who lives in LA and is flying to Cincinnati for a conference. Michael is a puppet, and at first you will simply marvel at this. You will marvel not just at the detail, or how his skin looks exactly like skin, but how, in being a representation, and knowing he’s a representation — he even sports a visible seam, showing where the parts of the puppet face fit together — he seems more real than if he weren’t.

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