Anomalisa: Charlie Kaufman, Master of Puppets
When I worked in a call centre, one of the first ‘motivational’ posters I remember seeing was one that had the phrase ‘Your customer is a person, not just a reference number’ on it. It’s a nice gesture, but after you work in a call centre long enough, you realise that when you pick up the phone, the quickest way of getting the job done is immediately asking for a reference number.
It’s easier for everyone to be the same. It’s no surprise then, that Michael - voiced by David Thewlis - the lonely, depressive lead character in Charlie Kaufman’s latest think-fest Anomalisa works as a motivational speaker for call centre employees.
Kaufman, and co-director Duke Johnson’s, choice to use stop-motion animation rather than live action is inspired. They create a world that is both immediately unsettling and comforting. The characters are warm, with soft curves, and their felt skin begs to be reached out to and stroked; but their faces are divided by a seam across the middle, and each one appears to look and sound remarkably like the last.
This doesn’t mean that Kaufman has suddenly gone all Arthur C. Clarke. The world of Anomalisa is no science fiction, and it hits all the Kaufman thematic trademarks: identity, relationships, loneliness, searching for one's place in the world.
As Kaufman has aged, his philosophical brushstrokes have become broader and broader. At points, the dialogue in Anomalisa would be heavy-handed in a film set in the real world, but in a world where everyone else is exactly the same, to question one's own identity out loud doesn't seem like such a mad thing to do.
Michael’s latest motivational talk takes him to Cincinnati, and the Hotel Fregoli - its name taken from a psychiatric disorder that creates the belief that everyone else in the world is the same person - where he meets Lisa, who perceives herself to be anonymous, just like everyone else in this world, but who Michael sees as extraordinary. She is voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, unlike everyone else who is voiced by Tom Noonan, and she seems to be everything that Michael is looking for in his life.
Michael and Lisa’s meeting leads to an extraordinary sequence in which the most delicate representations of humanity are created. They share conversations that glitter with honest disfluencies, Lisa sings a version of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ that will make you completely re-analyse Cyndi Lauper, and they have sex which appears so real that Gaspar Noé will be firing his ego.
Their bodies have the bumps, creases and movements of people who never seem to exist on the cinema screen, their felt and plastic move with caution and thrill, doing something so innately human in such a funny, exciting and erotic way, that they no longer become puppets, but people.
Anomalisa opens on Friday 11 March at Curzon Cinemas.