Time and time again I have discussed on Celluloid Cinema the importance of good story telling in film. You can have great acting performances and outstanding cinematography but they can only go so far if your audience is not captivated by the story. While captivating original stories in Hollywood seem very far in between, Charlie Kaufman never fails to remind us that they still exist. With that in mind I am pleased to inform you that his newest film, Anomalisa, quenches the thirst for originality, and as a result creates a very good film that few seem to be talking about. Although, its not just the level of originality the film brings that makes it so unique. The real success of Anomalisa comes from the unique way in which the film is told as well as the animation style, which bears an uncanny sense of realism onto the audience. But, before we start discussing the medium that is used to present the story, let us discus the story itself.
Upon face value, the story of the film could be summed up in the simple, tired concept of “boy meets girl.” If this is all the film seemed to you when you saw the trailer or read any article about the film, do not let this shallow interpretation of the film’s plot make you miss out on seeing the film. Its story is so much more involved than “boy meets girl,” mostly due to the interesting juxtaposition of its pacing. When it comes to the exploration of a relationship within a film the writer must pick between one of two options. One being, showing a small part of a grander relationship by depicting one night or event, or two, the writer must tackle the entirety of the relationship by showing pivotal moments that take place over the course of a long period. With these storytelling models the writer can either focus in on an aspect of a stage within a relationship, the first option, or comment on relationships as a whole by showing their progression, the second option. With Anomalisa, Kaufman creates a third option through the blending of the previous models. In order to construct this option, Kaufman tells most of the story in a condensed setting much like the way a story would be in the first option, but while in this singular setting Kaufman walks the audience through the stages of an entire relationship in less than an hour in real time and one day in the story world. Typically one may argue that showing an entire progression of a relationship in this small of a time frame would not be able to get anything across to the audience on an emotional level because the weight of the relationship would not be present. But this absence of meaning does not occur in the film as a result of Kaufman using every second of the film to both visually and audibly add weight to the story. Visually speaking, this is done primarily with dramatically long tracking shots that are only possible due to the film being animated. These long shots allow the audience to embody the mind set of Michael, the main character, and become one with his character so the emotions he feels are authentic and affect the audience the same way they affect him. In addition, the dialogue of the film is so perfectly relatable throughout its entirety, allowing for the audience to instantly not only buy into the film’s realism but to feel for the characters as real people. Without this direction and writing from Kaufman the film would have found difficulty succeeding because the scope of its story is such a difficult one to tell.
As I previously hinted at in the last paragraph, while I would like to give all of the credit to the film being successful to the power of Kaufman, a fair amount of the captivation of the story was only possible due to the medium it was told in. Although, most audiences are familiar with stop motion animation featuring clay models like that of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas,Anomalisa takes a different approach and uses 3D printed puppets and stop motion animation. Now because this style of animation is so tedious and takes a very long time to do (Anomalisa is only 90 minutes in length and took over 19 months to shoot) it is not a style many filmgoers have ever seen before, but it is definitely a true spectacle and often steals the show. Personally I greatly admire Pixar and their filmography but there has never been a point where their animation has made me question if it was live action or not. They definitely understand the choreography of human movement quite well yet; visually their characters just do not quite look life like. As a result, I gave up hope that animation would ever surpass the realism of live action since if the best animation company could not do it, who could? This disillusion was shattered upon viewing Anomalisa. Many times throughout the film I found myself trying to locate imperfections and having no luck as the level of realism is on par with that of live action. This, in combination with the work of Kaufman, brought the level of realism in the film through the roof to allow for the audience to accept the unconventional approach to the love story.
All in all, Anomalisa is definitely not a film that I would recommend to everyone as much of it requires very astute analyzing that leads to an unpopular (and possibly controversial) outlook on love. But for those that are interested in using film to evoke critical thinking, Anomalisa is definitely a film that you should seek out. If you are really interested in seeing some of the best stop motion animation on screen at least check out some of the trailers or clips for the film as that aspect will not disappoint any audience. Overall, Anomalisa helps audiences that are feeling fatigued from the lack of unoriginal films and reminds them that Charlie Kaufman is truly one of the greatest film writers. With all of this taken into consideration Celluloid Cinema awards Anomalisa 4 out of 5 Reels.
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