Charlie Kaufman's new melancholy masterpiece, Anomalisa, is the most human-like animated feature ever filmed... until it isn't.
Oscar-winning Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) worked with a team of stop-motion animators, using an uncanny skin-textured material on the film's puppets and more than 1,200 variations of faces to handcraft emotions. The puppets' expert "skin" is dissected into quadrants at eye level, leaving a noticeable seam.
"We had hundreds of different replacements for pieces of the faces, and then there's that seam near their eyes. But, honestly, we didn't want to take them out," co-director Duke Johnson told Boise Weekly following the premiere of Anomalisa at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015. "Typically, animators go in with computers and paint out those lines. We just didn't want to do that. We wanted to keep the unseen animators ever-present. Did you feel that when you saw our film?"
Absolutely. Anomalisa is an extraordinary technical achievement and well deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Each animator used thousands of miniature costumes, props and puppets to fill 118,000 frames or two seconds of film finished per day—the film ultimately took three years to complete. It's the emotional qualities not the technical tricks, however, that map out a journey into the ordinary travails of two lonely people with extraordinary feelings, and what makes Anomalisa a perfect fit into Kaufman's quite imperfect canon, which includes Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
"This is classic Charlie Kaufman: misanthropic, cynical and alienated. I love everything he's ever done," said David Thewlis (Remus Lupin, Harry Potter) at the premiere. "I said yes to this project even before reading it."
Thewlis is the voice of Michael, a middle-aged mess of a man who finds temporary euphoria in Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) during a tryst in a Cincinnati hotel room—complete with puppet sex. What happens to Michael and Lisa over the course of one night is haunting, and the merits of Anomalisa will be debated and deconstructed by cinephiles for decades. Have no fear: nothing horrifying happens to the film's two lost souls, but their banality is a brutal kick to the gut. In them, we see ourselves and in Anomalisa, we see one of the best films of the year.