by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman (2015)
its more sophisticated levels, rather than dictating a crude rote script
(‘would you like fries with that?’ ‘Have a nice day!’), the
discipline of customer service charges staff with assessing and
addressing the individual needs of each customer, even before they’ve
asked for something.
of the ironies of Anomalisa is that although Michael Stone (David
Thewlis) is a moderately celebrated customer service guru he cannot, to
his great dismay, tell people apart.
from his latest love interest, all the other characters in this
stop-animation puppet film are voiced by one actor (Tom Noonan), and,
unlike whoever T S Eliot had in mind when he was writing The Wasteland,
he doesn’t ‘do the police in different voices’.
only a slight change in pitch to denote gender, everyone speaks in the
same monotonous tone, the tone of bad customer service. Is this a satire
on a modern world in which individuality has blurred into a drone? Or is
there something wrong with Stone?
turning point comes as he steps out of his hotel room shower and he
suddenly, inexplicably at first, yells “Somebody Else!” He has
caught the sound of a different voice in the corridor and hurriedly
dresses and starts knocking on other doors on his floor under cover of
“looking for a friend”.
he finds Lisa, who is not only an anomaly but, luckily, a fan. She’s
in town to hear him give one of his motivational speeches to customer
service professionals. Several cocktails and a raid on the mini-bar
later, they’re shagging.
this sensitive point, I ought to remind you we’re watching puppets
having sex here. How you react to that is probably a very personal
thing, but Anomalisa would be a quite different film if there were real
human beings, or rather actors, on the screen.
puppetry is painstakingly realistic – the hairs on Stone’s neck
riffle in the breeze from the aeroplane air-con – yet we are
constantly reminded the puppets are not human. You can see the join
where the faces have been stuck on, the bodies move awkwardly, and they
are strangely out of proportion.
extra effort you have to make to suspend your disbelief means you attend
much harder to what’s going on (not a lot happens), and you are more
sensitive to the ‘emotions’ the puppets display, or rather the
a novel sort of experience comes from a very old story – the one where
the middle-aged suit at a conference gets off with a vulnerable woman
before returning unhappily to his family.
question I posed earlier – does the problem lie in Stone or society?
– also becomes harder to answer. As a friend pointed out in the pub
the other night, Anomalisa is a play not only explicitly on anomaly but,
implicitly, on anomie. And there is certainly a lot of that going on. So
much, that the story is a profoundly pessimistic one.
already know that Stone has been here before, found love on the
conference trail and dumped her before returning home, illusions dashed,
to his miserable domesticity. He seems destined to repeat the grim
narrative over and over. The gift he brings back for his kid is,
ironically, an automaton.
affair might have deepened Stone’s despair but Lisa, despite the
rotten way she’s been treated, has seized from the episode a smidgeon
you, they are only puppets.
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