Friday, January 1, 2016

each person you speak to has had a day

"I love doing stop-motion for no reason except that it's stop-motion... My favorite thing is a puppet not moving, just sitting there and being depressed."

That's Dino Stamatopoulos, one of the producers of Anomalisa, quoted in the New York Times.

And, somewhere in those two sentences, the real genius of Anomalisa is captured--using stop-motion, a format that made the production take three years, to tell what is mostly a very mundane tale--that is the primary conceit of the latest Charlie Kaufman film. This story could be told in (and actually was before) as a stage play, a single run-through that takes the 9o-minute runtime. But that is rather the point. Taking the time to tell a simple story.

That story, though, is really far larger than its mundanity in being so mundane. Dealing with themes of identity, fidelity, attraction, all while playing with the idea of a Fregoli Delusion. That is, one person's inability to tell strangers (and familiars, for that matter) apart serves as a much more normal inability to connect with other people. Love and attraction become a strange exercise in self-identification in the Other. So to speak.

Honestly, I'm having trouble writing about the film perhaps because I was so moved by it. Kaufman's particular brand of unusual fits my sensibilities well. When Michael Stone (David Thewlis) has trouble communicating with his wife and his son, I understand on a basic level, but--SPOILERS--when Michael finds his own face malfunctioning in front of the mirror Andre pan is and he runs from his room in search of a friend, or anyone at all, I understand it on a more fundamental level. That need for connection coupled with a need to reassurance of self--I get that. It slides right out of the film, down from the screen and I feel it. In a way, it's why I watch movies on a regular basis. In the absence of something supposedly more fulfilling--something like genuine human interaction with friends or loved ones, which of late are not as common in my life as I might like--film becomes a... For lack of a better word, film is the filling that replaces what is missing. For example, this past month in this blog, I was being pulled and was pulling myself into a rather oversized sociopolitical discussion, leaning into films with serious political themes (I shall try to index the past month tomorrow), because as it were, outside of this blog, outside of film, I have taken a keener interest in politics recently as the presidential race gets a slow start going. But then, I also did not want to consume myself with such things, so I purposely alternated into far less political films (again, see the index tomorrow), and then it was December so Oscar films were showing up in theater's and screener DVDs were out there and I had a lot to watch, a lot to say, a lot to think and feel and understand. And, Michael Stone awkwardly trying to connect with (and somewhat succeeding) Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), I can relate to that sort of awkwardness, not just in reaching for, say love or even friendship, or just basic human understanding, but in knowing what I want in the moment and having any idea how to get it...

That is the dilemma that occupies far too much of my time. Even when I think I know what I want. I want to help my children be better than they are, to live lives they will appreciate and that will be appreciated by others, by the world. I want to teach my students toward a similar end. I want to write a master's thesis that matters for more than just a degree, or to transform some of its meat (along with some more of the contents of this blog that have not already been quoted therein) into something... publishable. Something consumable. Something appreciable. And not to find that once again when I put myself out into the world, my face has fallen to the floor.

Metaphorically, of course.

You know those little flipbook bits when you draw the little stick figures on, say, the bottom corner of a notebook's pages. When I've known people to draw those, they draw exciting things, figures running and jumping. The favorite of my own such creations had a man walk a few paces, stop to ponder, his hand to his mouth, then continue walking and finally sit down on a rock. This is the mundanity that exceeds its own parameters. This is Anomalisa. This is what I love in film. I mean sure the spectacle of Star Wars (obviously) draws out my joy as well, but the small stories, powerful in their evocation more than their excitation. And yet, both can be one and the same. As in life, as in film.

But, of course, then there is the painful third act, when what is new, what is wanted, turns sour, or is lost, or is found but something beyond it is is wanted as well and so you ruin what you have and must start anew.

As 2015 came to an end last night, I tried to remember the last New Year's Eve on which I could look back at the year concluding as overwhelming good.

There are fantastic moments, fantastic events in my life. But, for karmic or poetic reasons, or just by chance, the mundane moments and the dark moments twist themselves into the same calendar.

But, what matters--and Phil Connors would concur--is how it it as the end of the day, so to speak, the latest day. Today. This moment.

And tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and so on. The resumptions go on. And, so do I.

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