For better or worse, animation as a technique is frequently associated with children’s fare. Sure, there are occasional animated films that will aim for adults as well as children. But it’s rare for animation (especially with film) to be aimed exclusively at adults. Make no mistake, the gorgeous stop-motion Anomalisa is one of those rarities.
Anomalisa tells the story of a man’s trip to Cincinnati. That man, Michael Stone (David Thewlis), is in town for a night before speaking at a customer service convention the next day. Michael is plagued by a troubling problem: everyone he encounters looks and sounds the same. That is, until Michael hears a voice down the hall from his hotel room – someone who sounds different from everyone else. As Michael frantically searches for, and then finds, this woman – named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) – he wonders what makes her unique.
Michael’s problem is introduced to the audience without a ton of attention given to it. As Michael comes into contact with other characters, it takes a few conversations to nail down that they all sound the same (Tom Noonan is appropriately billed in the credits as “Everyone Else”), and possibly a few more interactions to realize that, outside of Michael, everyone else has the same face as well. Michael’s lack of a reaction to this implies that he’s dealt with this for awhile, even if it’s not something he necessarily understands.
That makes the introduction of Lisa all the more exciting. It confirms just how entrenched the idea of everyone else looking and sounding the same is in Michael’s head, and how unusual her presence is into his world. His excitement at her existence is palpable. But what about Lisa makes her unique – is it something about her, or is it Michael’s perception of Lisa? And will she be able to live up to what he needs?
To delve into the film more would mean giving away more parts of the story that audiences are better off discovering on their own. And audiences should take a chance on Anomalisa. It’s the kind of film that’s thought-provoking while sitting in the theater, and for hours (if not days) thereafter. There’s a vagueness to the story’s approach, and to whether or not audiences should sympathize with Michael that should start some debate. It’s not a light film. And with its language, graphic nudity and explicit sexual scenarios, it’s definitely not an animated film for children. For adults looking for an enjoyably challenging film, though, Anomalisa provides plenty to consider.