Spoilers O Plenty
Charlie Kaufman has to be one of the most talented screenwriters in Hollywood today. He writes films, good or not, that tweak the mind and sometimes even the heart. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is, in my view, his best as it makes the viewer ponder if they would do what the main character does and also ask themselves what is true love really look like. Adaptation and Being John Malcovich are complete noodle scratches that are still able to draw you in with their quirkiness. He has an odd and yet poignant mind and the directors that create his vision give tremendous respect to that vision. His latest, Anomalisa, a film financed by a crowd funding effort and made entirely of stop motion, may be one of his most on the nose creations when dealing with the subject of depression.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a successful motivational speaker dealing with customer service with a problem. He doesn’t know who he is anymore and everyday life has become monotone and mundane. So much so that everyone he meets looks and sounds the same (all voiced by Tom Noonan). He has landed in Cincinnati to promote his latest book and his existential crisis grows. He is bored with his wife and son and tries to meet up with an ex-girlfriend to see what he might have done wrong in life. Soon after his arrival he hears a voice he has never heard before, something different that intrigues him. He soon meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and begins a one night relationship that reinvigorates his desire to live in the moment. Only it doesn’t last and he drops deeper into his sadness than before.
Starting with the look of the film, you will be highly impressed with the attention to detail that the creators take to generate this universe. As you watch this, you can only think what a strenuous and time consuming project this was to make it look so unbelievable. Not only the stop motion, but the way scenes flow and the interesting and creative angles of the camera and lighting are so impressive. The voice cast is great as well, even though it only consists of three people. Thewlis accent adds to his characters sadness perfectly and Leigh brings a sweet, innocent and mousy tone that works. The incredibly talented character actor Tom Noonan is great as the choice to voice every other character in the film. The only other actor I can see in these roles would be Brad Garrett, but I think perhaps his voice would have been too overwhelming. All around the production, story and voice acting come together well. It’s the theme that takes this movie to a whole other level.
Charlie Kaufman movies, for me anyway, are notoriously difficult to watch once and for the most part mean something different for everyone which is what I think he wants. So for this movie, I couldn’t help but shake by the end of it that this was about depression, and not in a good way. There is no resolution, no happy ending for the depressed, much like in real life. Michael is a man who is haunted by his passed, not happy with the direction his life is going and is just drudging along with no true happiness. That’s why he sees people as all the same with the same voices, they aren’t important, he is so focused on himself and his sadness that he cannot appreciate people. Then he meets Lisa and as I can say by personal experience, the reason he is happy is not just because he hears a different voice, but because he has fixated on something that can make him happy and begins to hold her up as his salvation. Depression is a horrible feeling of hopelessness and when you feel that there is even a chance of seeing a light at the end of a tunnel, you fixate and obsess over it. But, like in real life, the object of the obsession quickly turns into the mundane and depression sets in all over again.
That is what happens to Michael, he has gotten what he wants out of Lisa and begins to see her as everyone else and this time, travels deeper into depression. Her voice becomes like everyone else around him as does her face. When he returns home to his family he doesn’t recognize anyone at the surprise party his wife throws him. He has fully succumbed to his depression and finds no value in anyone around him. His entire journey to its culmination before the credits role is a perfect picture of what deep depression is and how, when we look to overcome it in selfish and wrong ways, it will drag you deeper into depression. Even as a Christian I have found this to be true and it is heart wrenching. Why? Because my eyes have been looking inward instead of upward showing, once again, that my need for joy should not be in what the world can give me, but what He has done for me. This really was a personally emotional movie for me.
I would highly recommend it with one gigantic caveat. There is an overly long scene of sexual activity that is quit uncomfortable. Yet, I do see the scene as something that adds to the story because it is the moment the character has gotten what he wanted and will now have a downward spiral back into depression. It can easily be fast-forward when the home version is released and you will not miss any of the story. If you are interested in films that delve into the character of man and makes you think about your own life, this is one you will enjoy.
3 and ½ stars out of 4