In a perfect world, Anomalisa would sweep this year's Academy Awards in a similar manner to that of Slumdog Millionaire back in 2009. However, an animated film has never won the 'best film' Oscar, let alone the award for 'best director', and if we still cannot work through a glaring race issue, then it is unlikely that we turn our attention to considerably lesser slights. As it stands, Anomalisa is frame for frame the strongest, most vital film included on this year's roster, but does not appear in its shortlist of best films, and will probably lose out to the populist choice, Pixar's Inside Out, for the best animated feature category it is nominated in.

I'm unsure to what extent I should write about Anomalisa, an otherworldly yet strikingly realistic stop motion film from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Synecdoche, New York (2011) mastermind Charlie Kauffman, as, to a point, attempting to explain the majesty of its vision is somewhat redundant, and I will only serve to detract from the overall viewing experience by doing so.

Fig 1: Anomalisa (2015) - Dir: Charlie Kauffman & Duke Johnson


At its bare bones, Anomalisa is a film about love. It deals out both breathtaking joy and harrowing sadness, a bipolar, volatile and complex film that, as one critic summarised, is the most human film of the year but does not feature a single human - Anomalisa is a piece of cinema to reassure you in your darkest days and simultaneously, a cathartic, tragic and surreal experiment in the medium of film.

It is the story of Michael Stone (Voiced by David Thewlis), an ageing customer service guru touring his motivational book through the United States, and delivering speeches to industry professionals and eager fans alike.

Michael hears every voice but his own as an identical monotonous drawl, with every other character in the world voiced by Tom Noonan, including Michael's wife and child. Additionally, every character except for Michael is depicted by an identical model, with only clothes and hairstyles to distinguish them. The narrative takes place almost entirely within the confines of a Cincinnati hotel, where on the last stop before home, Michael hears a new voice and sees a new face, both of which belong to Lisa, the apt 'Anomalisa' of the title.

Fig 2: Michael's night in the Fregoli Hotel... It's worth noting that the name of the hotel is a reference to 'The Fregoli Delusion' Sufferers of which believe that different people are simply one person in constantly changing disguises.


This is but a basic outline of the overall narrative, as it is vitally important to go into the film with as little context as possible - the premise of the narrative being that each individual viewer is a world in his or her own right. So to fully appreciate the power of Kaufman's vision, one must fully immerse themselves in the strange world that he and co-director Duke Johnson have crafted.

However, rather than delve too deep into the film on a thematic level, its crowning achievement is certainly the quality of animation. Both environment and characters have had immeasurable detail poured into their designs, from the presence of individual ice cubes in a bucket, to the faint scarring around Lisa's right eye. As you can probably see from the pictures arranged throughout this article, its style is uncanny, often to the point of discomfort, and is used to startling effect during Michael's brief lapses into madness.

Fig 3: The vivid set design see's small details such as condensation on a mirror or the miniature hairdryer in the background become important elements in the creation of a believable representation of an entire world.


Where Inside Out is undoubtedly a fantastic film in its own right, it will surely be robbing Anomalisa when it inevitably takes the statue home, as I believe Anomalisa is close to a perfect, a once in a lifetime miraculous achievement of understated cinematic power. Kaufman has before demonstrated how deep his understanding of the human condition runs, with the enormous quixotic struggle for 'truth' in one's art depicted in Synecdoch New York, and the precise capturing of post break-up emotions in Eternal Sunshine, and Anomalisa is no different, a stunning continuation in a seemingly unstoppable run of massively complex, high concept, cinematic psychoanalysis.

Where this year's nomination shortlists were almost predictable to the point of tedium, and even more so now officially announced, there was only one film from the lot that struck me as a work of art with some chance at longevity, a film that could potentially have a life after the climax of this year's ceremony, and maybe even eventually be considered as a classic or canonised, and that film was Anomalisa.