From the Oscar-winner who brought you 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and 'Being John Malkovich' comes a riveting new masterpiece. Michael Stone – husband, father and noted author – travels to Cincinnati to speak at a customer service conference. But once he’s separated from the routine of his daily life, a chance encounter helps him to realize just what, and whom, he’s been missing. Love, laughter and loneliness align in Charlie Kaufman’s "staggeringly inventive" (Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly) stop-motion work of art.
"I want to be the one to walk in the sun"
No one wants to be alone. Despite how prickly, or self-involved, or misanthropic a person might seem, deep down we all crave a connection. We all yearn for understanding and acceptance and affection. We all yearn for something extraordinary. We all yearn for love. But finding this elusive attachment is often easier said than done -- especially when you're surrounded by an endless sea of anonymous drones who all look and sound alike. After all, how can you find that truly special someone if everyone else is literally the same? Fueled by an equally sensitive and cynical air of loneliness and longing, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's 'Anomalisa' is a singular cinematic experience. A film so uncommonly unique in its aesthetic and painfully honest in its insights, that there really hasn't ever been anything quite like it before. And it's unlikely that there ever will be again.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a bored and lonely middle-aged man desperate to break free from the overwhelming monotony of his life. A monotony spurred on by his inability to see or hear other people as unique individuals. Instead, everyone else around him (played by Tom Noonan) looks and sounds exactly the same. But while on a business trip in Cincinnati, Michael has a chance encounter with a woman, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), with a face and voice all her own. Instantly smitten by her singular charms, Michael attempts to hold on tightly to their burgeoning romance... but other forces may have something else in mind.
Though I've seen several stop-motion animated films before, and I've always been left in awe by the painstaking craftsmanship and dedication that goes into the art form, what co-directors Johnson and Kaufman accomplish here with their aesthetic is in a class of its own. Using highly detailed 1:6 scale stop-motion puppets and intricately designed miniature sets and props, the directors and animators create a wholly convincing world populated with living breathing performers. Carefully molded homunculi with strikingly expressive faces, the puppets in the film quickly evolve from novel facsimiles into fully believable characters, complete with quirks and idiosyncrasies all their own. Opting for an atypically naturalistic style, the movements, framing, and lighting employed create an unassumingly realistic atmosphere, gently reinforcing the film's achingly intimate tone. And yet, as remarkably real as the puppets and images appear, there does remain a slight disconnect, keeping viewers one small step removed from the film's artificial world and its protagonist -- and this faint distance ends up working well with the script's surreal flourishes and more complex allegorical subtext.
Open to various interpretations, Kaufman's script is rich with deep insights and darkly humorous observations on human interaction, love, passion, disinterest, ego, narcissism, identity, perception, misanthropy, loneliness, and longing. Through Michael's strange predicament, we bear witness to a man so frustrated by the banality of the world and people around him that he can no longer make a lasting connection. This indifference leads to some rather dismissive behavior on his part, but when he meets Lisa, it's like a long dormant spark has been lit behind his eyes. She's special. Truly special. And yet, she's also fundamentally ordinary. And flawed. Like we all are. But for a time, it seems as if it's these very flaws that are what draw Michael to her. Does Michael love Lisa just because she happens to look and sound different, or does Lisa look and sound different because Michael loves her? It's an important distinction, and as the man seemingly projects his own desires and unfair expectations for extraordinary romance on the sweet yet ostensibly average woman, we may get our answer.
Initially, their wonderfully awkward interactions lead to a beautifully sensitive and stripped down love affair, including one of the most intimate sex scenes ever filmed -- despite the fact that both lovers happen to be puppets. But as the movie reaches its climax, Kaufman taps into more ambiguous undercurrents, exposing more unsettling and tragic elements related to human behavior and the transience of infatuation. Ultimately, it's Michael's own unpleasant flaws that might be the source of his detachment, and though this does make the character less sympathetic, it enriches the narrative with a disturbing air of self-criticism, elevating the story beyond lesser "sad lonely man" tropes. To this point, our sympathies really end up lying with Lisa, resulting in a depressingly cyclical yet still faintly bittersweet conclusion.
A cinematic anomaly all its own, 'Anomalisa' is a wholly unique work of art. Through their miniature world, Kaufman and Johnson offer an affecting peek into the human condition -- revealing our desperate longing for connection and the unfortunate, cynical realities that keep us apart. A thoughtful, funny, and often painful examination of the flaws and quirks that make people special, the movie is able to find the extraordinary in the ordinary -- if only for a moment.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount presents 'Anomalisa' on Blu-ray in a standard keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. The BD-50 Region A disc comes packaged with a DVD and instructions for an UltraViolet/iTunes digital copy.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Highlighting all of the painstaking detail put into the film's miniature stop-motion world, the video presentation is quite impressive.
The digital source is mostly clean and pristine with only negligible hints of banding. Focused on presenting an atypically naturalistic miniature aesthetic, the image offers a relatively diffuse style with soft, warm lighting and a comparatively muted color palette. Though not quite razor sharp, this creates a realistic quality with pleasing clarity and depth, revealing all of the intricate details in the tiny sets, costumes, and the puppet's strikingly expressive facial features. Contrast is well balanced with deep blacks and solid shadow delineation.
With a unique style all its own, 'Anomalisa' comes to Blu-ray with a beautiful video transfer. It might not be as punchy or sharp as some other animated films, but the artistry on display here is remarkable and there are no egregious technical issues.
The film is presented with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, along with optional English, English SDH, Spanish, French, and Portuguese subtitles. Delicately layered with subtle background effects and a few surreal flourishes, this is a quietly enveloping mix that proves to be surprisingly immersive.
Dialogue is clean and full-bodied throughout, ensuring that Tom Noonan's pleasantly monotone voice will forever haunt your dreams. Nicely setting the stage for what follows, the opening scene features a gently escalating chorus of voices spread throughout the soundstage, subtly encompassing the audience from all sides. The rest of the mix offers similarly measured design choices, with appropriate ambiance hitting the front and rear speakers with smooth imaging and directionality. To this end, quiter background effects are used to great effect, enhancing the film's intimate, and occasionally uncomfortable tone with deliberately placed sounds of rustling and clatter. More surreal moments, like a dramatic nightmare sequence, and another scene where Michael's face comes apart, feature more overt mixing choices with a few deep LFE cues. Carter Burwell's somber score also comes through with pleasing separation.
With subtle yet potent sound design, the mix creates an engaging sense of tone and atmosphere, perfectly complementing the movie's gentle mood.
Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's 'Anomalisa' is a wholly unique cinematic experience. Through the movie's intimate stop-motion world, the filmmakers craft a darkly funny and painfully sad examination of loneliness, self-absorption, and love. The video transfer and audio mix are both strong, perfectly preserving the film's unique style. While not packed with supplements, the included featurettes are filled with worthwhile insights into the movie's fascinating animation process. The film's surreal quirkiness and occasionally disturbing cynicism won't be for everyone, but for those open to the journey, this is a powerful work of art. Highly recommended.