A Beautiful World

The interior story details of Anomalisa are unimportant. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) arrives in his Cincinnati hotel for an overnight stay. In the morning, he’ll give a speech on customer service. It’s mundane and tiring and should be.

Without specificity, writer/director Charlie Kaufman spins a story about one man’s tiresome existence and the lonely tragedy which envelops him. Anomalisa’s striking ambiguity places Stone in a surreal reality. Everyone speaks in the same voice (Tom Noonan), bizarre as Stone wanders through an airport and hotel lobby. Ambient sounds are duplicated repeatedly.

Anomalisa’s understated narrative wanders, often boring if with specific intent. The first half hour is about nothing and that’s intentional. Viewer boredom is projected onto Stone. His face droops and his head hangs low as he pushes through the routine of his life. Since he’s a stop motion puppet, Anomalisa’s maturity strikes all the more impressive.

Stone and Lisa are convincing together, bonding from their awkward humor and shyness.

Animation is often used for flash and aesthetics. Here, it’s organic and natural. Minutiae brings real world attributes into this miniature realm. Characters wipe wet hands on their pants, struggle to put on clothes, and react uncomfortably when under social duress. Anomalisa’s motion deserves immense credit because it builds such stunning realism into puppets which – for the sake of animation – have segmented faces. Yet, in minutes, the unreality has been whisked away by the authenticity of their movement.

Stone’s ambivalence to redundant (and dryly funny) small talk and unsightly demeanor breaks away when he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the only distinctive voice in his world. Suddenly, Anomalisa begins to explore intimacy, and in doing so, conveys the natural ebbs and flows of a newfound relationship better than any check-boxed studio romance. Stone and Lisa are convincing together, bonding from their awkward humor and shyness. The pair mesh spontaneously with enough development backing them to believe they need to be together.

A dusting of surrealism follows, exploring Stone’s fragility. Anomalisa isn’t afraid of hopelessness. Being a puppet mixes into Anomalisa’s theme as Stone tries to escape his circumstances. There’s breathing room to explore interpretations – clues are vague, nearly indicating another discarded story path – and by remaining true to its own realism, the final scenes carry additional power. Wonderful cinema.

Anomalisa Blu-ray screen shot 6

Video

Photographed entirely on still cameras, Anomalisa’s visual form has a unique quality. By design, textural details are diminished by a persistent dream-like haze (hinting at some interpretations of the film). This softness adds a gentle visual form to the often hard content. Light sources bloom and contrast stays reserved until a key sequence blots out images with exterior sun. There’s reason for both.

When in close – which is infrequent – texture of the puppets can be seen. Each frame carries a unique signature, never real yet interesting in giving a glimpse of the process. Miniature stand-outs include carpets and woven clothes. Those details can be striking.

An early scene inside a cab challenges black levels. Passing street-side lighting casts deep shadows into the car, producing superlative depth. Elsewhere, the recreation of interior lighting flattens things, a simple touch which adds a necessary layer of realism.

Anomalisa keeps saturation muted. Colors carry a dusty quality, a touch dry and dulled in impact. Grading adds a layer of warmth to nearly every scene, further keeping intensity down. In doing so, Anomalisa further accentuates the natural quality.

Audio

All of Anomolisa’s audio was recorded with specific foley effects. Footsteps in a hallway were not faked – someone walked through a hotel hallway to ensure the sound was correct. For purposes of home theater though, the DTS-HD track sits predominately in the front channels. A stereo spread catches people knocking on doors to the sides. A few ambient conversations drift into the surrounds.

Opening credits start with Tom Noonan’s voice repeated a few times, growing in number as they continue before filling the soundfield. The effect is clean. Those requiring a bit of LFE support will find little. Some dramatic cues and panicked knocking will be the extent.

Extras

None of Them Are You can boast 30-minutes of great making-of content, more so when considering the uniqueness of an adult animated drama. Insight into the animation process as well as narrative design are offered with enough depth to feel a majority of ground has been covered.

If anything was missing, it’s in Intimacy in Miniature, which explores the comedic complexity of filming a sex scene in stop motion. Five minutes of screen time took months of prep work and design just to ensure audiences would buy it. Details alone make this one of best short length (nine minutes) bonuses this year. The final piece, The Sound of Unease, listens in on the sound work.

It’s a shame there’s no commentary, but these bonuses all excel.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Summary

An ingenious and brave use of stop motion highlight the adult drama Anomalisa.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.