PUBLISHED 22 AUG 2016
IN a response to one of the many criticisms of his book Meditations on First Philosophy, philosopher Réne Descartes summarised a chapter down to the singular analysis: “I think therefore I am”. By this he meant that if he is able to question his own existence then surely he must exist to do so. However this presents several problems, many of which films have tried to explore. An obvious example is THE MATRIX (Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski 1999) which explores the “ghost in the machine” critique. The main philosophical problem derived from Descartes’ statement is that it leads to a state of solipsism, the notion that only you can know you exist, a critique that puppet animation film ANOMALISA explores to bleak yet honest effect.
Solipsism is the philosophical critique that you cannot prove that you are not alone in your reality. The path to self-confirmation is simple enough but how then can we prove that others exist? We cannot see into their minds and witness their contemplation of sense of self. ANOMALISA centres around Michael (voiced by David Thewlis), an unhappily married customer service expert. Michael suffers from a variation of the Fregoli delusion — or delusion of doubles — in which he sees everyone as the same person. This works incredibly well in the stop-motion film by giving all the models the same face and having the same actor (Tom Noonan) voicing all the other characters, with one exception. Michael is a complete product of his delusion, unable to make meaningful relationships with anyone new or hold on to those relationships he has already formed. This delusion is interrupted when he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who he believes will be the emancipator of his delusion.
This difference is short lived, however, with Lisa turning into just one of the many identical faces Michael perceives. Michael is left realising that he can never get close to anyone. He cannot form a meaningful connection with anyone without damaging them in his mind. As he explains when he later breaks down during a speech: “I have no one to talk to. I'm sorry. I don't mean to burden you with that, I just don't know what else to do because I have no one to talk to...”. His desire for love stems from the supposed social imperative of our modern society. Those who love and are loved gain acceptance and, in turn, survive. To be unable to do this proves to be truly crippling for Michael; how can he ever love anyone if he cannot even tell them apart? If there is no individuality between his son, his wife and his mistress then he is destined to be alone.
Michael becomes an amalgam of despair in human nature, of feeling alone and with no hope that it will ever change. ANOMALISA is a depressingly beautiful commentary on one of the greatest human fears. In telling its story from the perspective of the incessantly lonely, the film makes us both fearful but also appreciative of the connections and relationships we already have.