Anomalisa (2015), a stop motion film written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson, focuses on a customer service guru named Michael Stone who is immensely burdened by the mundanity and loneliness of his life. The subject matter is unexpected considering the colorful and traditionally cheerful medium, but in conjunction with several artistic choices made by the brains behind this film, the product turns out to be an intense, soul-crushing examination of the trials of ordinary life.
The film's most important artistic choice is to use only three different voice actors, despite telling a story that includes a large array of characters. Michael Stone, our bored, lonely and downtrodden protagonist, is voiced by David Thewlis, while sweet but insecure customer service representative Lisa is voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Every other character, from Stone’s distant wife and child to his former lover Bella and even the voices of the songs in the background are all voiced by one man, Tom Noonan. The effect is something very special and integral to this particular story. We grasp how Michael views the world around him without needing narration or other verbal expression of what is inside his head. From the start of the film, we grasp that, in Michael's mind, he’s the only unique person in the world, and everyone else is part of the dull grey scenery.
This tool is by no means subtle, but it doesn’t try to be. It is the sun that the rest of the story revolves around. After trying and failing to reignite the flame of a long lost love while in Cincinnati for the night, a drunken Michael meets Emily and Lisa, two huge fans of a customer service book written by Michael. Michael is spellbound by Lisa’s voice, and after bringing her back to his room they make love in the most honest and realistic sex scene probably ever depicted in film, which is all the more incredible when you consider that it is portrayed in stop motion. In a nightmare that Michael has after they fall asleep, the rest of the world confesses its love to Michael and insists that he doesn’t sleep with Lisa. One office worker urges, “Fuck any of us just not Lisa.” This nightmare illustrates to us how Michael sees the universe as an entity that is conspiring against him to thwart his happiness. When he drags Lisa away from a protesting Emily, he tells her, “Everyone is one person but you and me. You're the only other person in the world,”
Lisa wakes him from his nightmare, and over breakfast he professes the intensity of his love for her and asks her to move to LA to be with him. She agrees, but already during that conversation, little things start to annoy Michael: her scratching her teeth with her fork while she eats, her talking with “food hanging out of her mouth,” and the fact that she is “being a little controlling.” Her voice starts to morph into the voice of the rest of the world. Michael is traumatized, and his excited, eager tone is replaced by the pained effort with which he spoke to his wife and child earlier on the phone. By the end of breakfast, Lisa's voice has completely transitioned into that of the rest of the world, signifying to the audience that the flame of their love burned too brightly and too quickly and is now already out. During the vocal transition when Michael knows it’s too late for them, he says in response to a statement from Lisa, “Sometimes there’s no lesson. That’s a lesson in itself.” Michael is telling us that if we go to the trouble of assigning to something a meaning that isn’t there, we will inevitably be hurt when we discover its lack of the value we too quickly ascribed.
Despite the elements of fantasy and the abundance of clay, this is a brutally honest masterpiece that pulls no punches and does not try to handhold the viewer. None of this harsh delivery of the movie's core themes would be possible without the decision to use only one person for every other character other than Michael and Lisa.