Note: This film has already had festival screenings and has been written about by those in attendance. I, personally, have no interest in reading these reviews until after I see the film, so there will be no information about the film presented in this article that is not from either the trailer or basic promotional material. No spoilers here.
If you’re already a fan of Charlie Kaufman’s work, then you’re probably aware that Anomalisa, which will see widespread release in January and a small limited release this month, will be Charlie Kaufman’s first new movie in seven years. If Kaufman’s name isn’t immediately ringing a bell but you enjoyed Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Adaptation, all written by him, then you can count yourself among his fans. Regardless of your exposure to his outlandish, dreamlike works, Anomalisa will definitely be the first animated endeavor you’ll see of his. Possibly the last. Who really knows at this point? All we have to go with is a single trailer.
This word is the basis of everything I think I know from watching the trailer. It appears to be the name of a hotel, as it can be seen behind a check-in desk and on a pad of paper.
This would seem fairly insignificant had the mystery author of a 2005 audio play also called Anomalisa not been named Francis Fregoli. It was quickly revealed that Fregoli was, in reality, an alias of Kaufman, who has a history of hiding secrets in characters’ names. In his last film, 2008’s Synecdoche, New York, the protagonist is named Caden Cotard after the “Cotard delusion,” which manifests in those afflicted as a belief that they are dead. Caden Cotard, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, is obsessively afraid of death, making it an ever-present theme throughout film.
Both The Fregoli Hotel and Francis Fregoli are most likely named after the “Fregoli delusion,” which causes those who suffer from it to believe that different people are actually the same person in disguise. This brought attention to how the characters in Anomalisa’s trailer look. In what appears to be an airport, all of the patrons have the same face. This is also the case in the women’s office that is shown briefly. Are they wearing masks? A curved line around their faces seems to suggest so.
The connection to the Fregoli delusion is made even more believable when taking a look at the movie’s cast. David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh are credited as the voices of Michael and Lisa, respectively, while Tom Noonan is credited for “everyone else,” meaning all of the identical characters.
The irony here is pure Kaufman. Everybody except the two main characters appears to be exactly the same while the protagonist, Michael, speaks about the significance of every individual. “Each person you speak to has had a childhood,” he says, “Each has a body. Each body has aches.” He then tells the listener, whoever it may be, to focus on what makes every person unique and special.
Blurry distinctions between reality, dream-states, and delusions are present in almost every film Charlie Kaufman has written, so it’s safe to assume Anomalisa will follow in their footsteps. The identical faces of everyone in the trailer seem to confirm this. The likelihood of their faces actually being the same in the “real world” of Anomalisa is slim, as Michael explains that he can’t quite put his finger on what is “extraordinary” about Lisa. He just knows she is. But if she really was the only other person in the world with a unique face, Michael would immediately know what made her different.
This supports the possibility of Michael suffering from something similar to the aforementioned Fregoli delusion. He sees everyone as essentially being the same person. Whoever actually has the face he’s seeing everywhere is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it belongs to someone Michael had a traumatic experience with. Perhaps it’s the face of someone Michael views as the essential “every man.” Maybe the face is completely imaginary. Whatever the case, he doesn’t actually believe what he preaches in the voice-over. Every person is not unique. They do not all have their own experiences. They do not all have their own bodies. At least not to him.
The quotes that appear in the trailer show that the film has been incredibly well-received by critics. If this is any indication of what audiences will think of it, Anomalisa will be a box office hit. It will, however, likely also receive some harsh criticism. With all but two characters looking identical and an all-white cast, the film will almost certainly show no cultural diversity. This is an issue that Hollywood is seeing more and more backlash for. A study done by the University of Southern California shows that of the top 700 most popular films released between 2007 and 2014, 73.1% of cast members were white. Audiences are losing patience with this continuing trend. Many of this year’s most popular films, such as The Martian and Jurassic World, have been accused of whitewashing their casts. Chances are similar remarks will be made about Anomalisa.
Of course, I could be completely wrong about all of this. One thing is for sure though: Anomalisa is going to be a weird time. Charlie Kaufman has never been limited by any sort of conventional guidelines for how a screenplay should work. Now, by embracing the world of animation, he can break through the physical restrictions of filming and fully show the audience his strange, beautiful, self-referential visions that make his films unlike any others.