Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is a business writer turned guru who has written some highly successful books that have helped a lot of people, consequently, he is wanted to be heard by a lot of people, and conference tours are a good income for him. As the plane lands in his latest port of call, Cincinatti, he notices the passenger next to him has been clutching his hand nervously, but his mind is mostly on other things, such as the ex-girlfriend he left behind in this city a while back, before he was married, and she did not take the break-up very well, to the point of writing him a furious letter that he has kept. But Michael's problems run deeper than guilt over that: everyone now looks and sounds the same to him.
Anomalisa started life as a play for voices, to be performed on stage with actors reading from the script, or on radio, but someone decided Charlie Kaufman's script was good enough to be made into a film, and that animation was the right path to take. Stop motion, in effect, that assisted the conception of the production's most obvious conceit, with every character having identical faces and voices, in this case provided by Tom Noonan, even the women and children, singers and old actors on television. Rather than be unsettling, it was absurd, yet not exactly capable of prompting much laughter for this was not really that sort of comedy, more a meditation on one man's inability to bring himself out of the depression that is blighting his existence.
Seeing everyone as the same person in real life was a genuine, if rare psychological condition, and would usually be accompanied by a paranoid delusion, yet though there were scenes which spoke to Michael's belief that everyone was out to get him, here it was more a belief that everyone wanted a part of him, because they loved him, a thought that horrifies the man who has given so much of himself in his books. Fair enough, it may well be the sensation that many a celebrity suffers if they're undergoing a personal crisis in their career, and Michael is a celebrity of a sort in the world of business, but more importantly, Kaufman was the sort of artist who his fans felt a personal connection to, as if he understood whatever malaise they were going through.
So it could have been this play and film were the cry for help of a talent who was struggling with the pressure of being a man with the answers, or at least the observations that looked like answers to why the viewer was not so alone when the pressure of the big questions settled over them like low thunderclouds. But what's this? Michael might have a way out of a life that is going fairly well but he doesn't appreciate, a state of affairs that may well make him unsympathetic, especially when it leads to an actual affair. First, he tries to make peace with his ex, but she has the same voice and face as everyone else too, and the encounter ends badly with her storming out thanks to him fumbling his apology and moves towards reconciliation. But then, as he retreats to his hotel room, he hears a voice.
Not a Tom Noonan voice, but a Jennifer Jason Leigh voice, the other part of the trio of actors who had performed this in the theatre. To hear an actual female voice for a change electrifies Michael, and he rushes to meet this woman who he also invites for a drink; her friend comes too, another clone, but it's Lisa who he is interested in, and he begins to believe this is a new relationship he can really go places with, to the point of them both enjoying a sexual encounter in one of the more honest sex scenes in cinema. Honest because they are both awkward, trying to do their best for their new partner, and in that accommodation not quite denying that they will be actually performing the act for selfish reasons: their own pleasure. But once this is over, Michael has his old depression crush him again, and hope is not on the cards. Some may say he didn't deserve it anyway, but Kaufman appeared to find him glumly appealing as a character, though it had to be said the sunnier Lisa was in a far more enviable position of making the best of her tentative moves to connect with the world. All Michael has is the Japanese sex doll be bought as a present for his son, perversely representing Lisa for all the personal satisfaction he could attain with her. Music by Carter Burwell.