TNB Night Owl–Anomalisa

Wheel of cheese cut and stacked in front of a stone wall. Photo by Alexander Maasch.

Director’s use animation for a number of reasons. Sometimes they need to build scenes so grand that doing so physically would be impossible. Sometimes it’s characters that can’t exist in real life (think aliens or humanoid animals). When Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman made ANOMALISA (2015) they used animation for a completely different reason, and succeeded in making characters who are more expressive of human emotions than many live actors.

Michael Stone is a celebrity in the world of customer service. He’s written the definitive book on the subject and is in Ohio to headline a call center conference. He’s a celebrity in a mundane world. At least, that’s how he sees both himself and everyone around him. He’s so bored with other people that he sees them all the same–literally. Everyone but him has the same voice and the same face. Whether man or woman, child or adult, immigrant or native, they all have the face and voice of a middle aged man. They are unique people with unique personalities but Michael can’t appreciate them. They’re just beings that aren’t him.

He’s also somewhat separated from the world around him. He’s got a wife and young son at home, but still calls his ex to meet up. It doesn’t occur to him it could affect his marriage, and it doesn’t occur to him what it’ll do emotionally to the ex who was devastated by their break-up. In the middle of the night he decides to get a toy to bring home to his son, but of course when he asks a taxi driver where a ‘toy store” is, the driver assumes he’s talking about something different. At first Michael doesn’t notice the giant dildos lining the shelves. When he does it barely registers but he does take interest in a strange antique Japanese sex robot and purchases it.

The monotony is broken when he hears a strange voice in the hallway. It’s strange in that it’s a regular woman’s voice. The sheer novelty of that is enough to send him through the hotel’s hallway, half dressed, knocking on various doors trying to find the one woman who sounded different than everyone else. At last he reaches her hotel room. Lisa is in shock–she and her best friend are both super fans of his and were there specifically to hear him speak. Not only does Lisa sound different than everyone else, but she looks different. Physically she’s not that extraordinary, and her personality isn’t extraordinary, but he perceives her as different and that’s what matters most to him.

The whole movie was done with stop-motion animation (think Claymantion or the great Ray Harryhausen flicks). These puppets are done with 3-D printed models, which allow for them to print faces with a wide range of subtlety and expressions. David Thewlis provides the voice for Michael and does a good job of humanizing him without making us overly sympathetic to his inconsiderate or destructive behavior. Lisa gets the voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh. She may not be the brightest, or the funniest, or even the kindest. Leigh, though, makes her wholly believable.

The real star is Tom Noonan who plays “everyone else”. He’s tasked with performing every character from the hotel check-in clerk to Michael’s long-suffering wife to his young son who has no connection to his psychologically absent father. Considering all the characters have the same face, his voice is the only thing to differentiate between the different people in Michael’s life. He does so, masterfully.

This isn’t a free video, but Amazon has it for less than five dollars and on YouTube for a rental at less than four bucks:

Question of the night–how do you feel about puppets?

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