A few days after I’d seen Anomalisa a friend of mine asked if it would make an okay date movie. I said no. She went to see it anyway.
The next morning she sent me a text that said, “You were right.”
Anomalisa may, even on my own advice, be a terrible date movie. Still, and I say this as someone who went to see it with their partner, it might also be a wonderful way in for discussing intimacy taboos.
For many, Anomalisa is desperately depressing; the idea is that we are all alone and have no hope of finding anyone who who will understand us, or even anyone who is “different”, individual.
Michael Stone, after spending the night with our titular Anoma-Lisa, finds her every bit as irritating as everyone else he’s ever met. Pause, sigh. He just can’t accept that everyone, no matter how ‘special’ or ‘individual’ they seem at first encounter, is human. We all eventually reveal habits or behaviours that irritate. Humans aren’t perfect.
The first taboo, then, in watching this film with a loved one, is accepting that the person you’re with annoys you. The second is in accepting that you annoy them. Ouch.
But there’s also something deeply comforting about the extremity of the alienation Michael feels, and in the unflinchingly bleak outlook of the film itself. It’s not so much that his attitude is one that provides comfort, nor is it his inability to get to grips with the fact that, in the end, all humans are disappointing. They’re human, after all. Pause, sigh. Instead, it’s that we see the fragility of someone who feels utterly, utterly alone – and that’s what can be comforting.
For the optimist who feels delight every day, for the person who is overjoyed by what the world offers and who finds happiness rather than alienation in others, sure, Anomalisa is bleak. But, for those of us who suffer anxiety and depression, or sometimes find it difficult to relate to others, who feel that even our loved ones don’t understand us some of the time – maybe much of the time – it can be comforting precisely because it means we aren’t alone. That anyone else can feel so acutely what the high functioning anxiety sufferers and manic depressed among us feel, means that someone else out there understands. Pause, breathe.
And, as horrible as Michael is, at least in part owing to his own cycle of depression – he is the unwitting maker of his own misery – he’s also human. Well, actually he’s a stop motion animation. So I guess writer/director Charlie Kaufman is human. Either way, thanks to Anomalisa, sitting in the dark next to someone you love, feeling unashamedly in tune with the miserable protagonist onscreen, you might just have opened up a line of conversation, a way to start talking about how difficult it is to admit that sometimes, even though everyone is an individual, you too might feel utterly, utterly alone. The good news is that you’re not.
Anomalisa is now available to rent on DVD from your favourite neighbourhood video shop – i.e. us.