Here’s why I found Charlie Kaufman’s new movie, Anomalisa, to be so painful to watch.
I love Kaufman’s films. I think of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as one of the most profound, emotionally powerful films about love of all time. Adaptation was a giant mind-f*** that was as delightful as it was confounding. Being John Malkovich takes one man’s identity crisis to a whole other surreal and hilarious level. So you can imagine my excitement to see his latest film, Anomalisa. Oh, Charlie! It seems that when you’re off, you’re w-a-a-a-y off.
Told using stop-motion animation, Anomalisa is about a middle-aged husband and father named Michael Stone (David Thewlis), who is incredibly lonely and has fallen into a mind-numbing emotional coma made more unbearable by his suffocating hotel on a current business trip to Cincinnati. After failing to hook up with his severely angry and insecure ex-girlfriend, he meets a young woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Lisa is plain but has an unusual scar next to her eye that intrigues Michael. She provides a shot of adrenaline to Michael’s dying heart and they have awkward puppet sex.
But Michael’s escape from depression doesn’t last long. In fact, it seems that each woman in the story offers a potential reprieve from his soul-crushing pathos, because to Michael, women are merely props in his life, much like the puppets that act out the scenes. To Michael, woman are simply toys that quickly lose their appeal. He even purchases a naked geisha automaton that seems to further support his theory that woman are objects to be bought and sold.
As Lisa, Leigh does her best to provide a soul to this flawed young woman, but she’s never allowed to access any deep emotion. When Michael asks Lisa about her scar, she tells him she doesn’t like to talk about it. Her scar is what makes her an anomaly to Michael, and how she earns the name “Anomalisa,” but she isn’t allowed to express the pain it caused her. Instead, Michael quickly lumps Lisa into the pile of shallow, clichéd women who appear to be ruining his life.
I understand that this is a movie about a man who objectifies women, and his inability to change. But is this film much different than most of the other movies out there? Telling the story through puppets does give it an added layer of symbolism, but it’s bleak just the same. It literally hurts to watch these movies.
For 2016, I would like to challenge Kaufman to make a film where his depressed male protagonist actually discovers that women are real, dynamic, flawed people and are deserving of love and friendship anyway. Women (and men) will always disappoint us. But they will surprise and impress us, too.
Until Kaufman can take this leap of faith as a filmmaker, I will avoid this writer’s future films.
Anomalisa is currently playing in limited release.