By Bob Bloom
“Anomalisa” is filmmaker Charlie Kaufman’s reflection on alienation and loneliness, told through a stop-motion animation world of his own creation.
In this poignant and gloomy feature, everyone, with the exception of two characters, looks and sounds alike.
At first, it is off-putting, but after a few minutes, you grasp Kaufman’s idea and central theme.
Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) travels to Cincinnati to give a talk. He is a sad, disconnected man who feels out of place in a world where, to his eyes, everyone else looks and sounds alike.
Despite being married, he is desperate to make a human connection. Then he hears a voice that sounds unlike all the others. It belongs to Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who has come to hear his talk.
She is a young woman lacking in self-confidence, but high on sweetness and adorability.
Michael, who is married and has a son, invites her to his room where they share some tender moments of love making, graphically depicted by Kaufman and his team of artists.
“Anomalisa” is an unhappy movie and that air of desperation envelops and squeezes you like a python.
You don’t know whether to feel sorry for Michael or despise him for taking advantage of the insecure Lisa.
You do feel some warmth for Lisa, even though you fail to grasp why she believes so strongly in Michael.
Kaufman has created an engrossing work of art. His thesis — that human beings have become mechanized clones lacking individuality may be a bit of a stretch — but “Anomalisa” is his world, and we accept his concept without hesitation.
The stop-motion technique simply adds to the surreal universe that Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson have created to make their point.
Yet, the story is so vital, the characters so real that you soon forget they are puppets and see them as people.
That, in itself is an irony; since what Kaufman is stressing is that we all are puppets being pulled by one massive set of strings called conformity.
The vocal performances of Thewlis and Leigh are wonderful. Thewlis emits a hopelessness that is so palatable you taste it right away.
Leigh’s brightness and optimism add a texture of beauty and charm to a bleak and bland landscape of sameness.
Tom Noonan does all the other voices, creating a world in which every person sounds like a carbon copy of the other.
The film is almost reminiscent of one of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” episodes that warned of the dangers of universal uniformity.
In spite of the use of puppets, “Anomalisa” is probably the most human film of 2015. It may have its slow moments, and it may seem too cryptic for some, but the majority of people who see it will not soon forget it.
It is aching and funny, cruel and loving. It’s one man’s journey to find something continually out of his reach — and even he is not sure what it is.
That is the tragedy and triumph of “Anomalisa.”
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
3½ stars out of 4
(R), strong sexual content, nudity, language