Some culture that we’ve consumed not from our list recently has been Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa and the J.J.Abrams / Stephen King production of his novel 11.22.63.
What a fantastic film. Written and directed by one of our favorite writers in Hollywood today, Anomalisa is a stop-motion animation film about a man whose existentialist difficulties with life have caught up with him on a business trip and subsequently have him teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Difficulties with his marriage, a relationship he really hasn’t gotten over that ended a decade ago, dissatisfaction with his calling, money, sex life, relationships, and loneliness have all culminated into one night. What is most striking about this story is not only the words the characters speak – something that is absolutely beautiful and unforgettable in John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine, Adaptation, and Synechdoche – but also the format and execution that he decided on for this film. With only three actors and no physical manifestations of any humans in the piece, the film does so much more than tell the story. What is most fascinating about this film is that on the surface it is the simplest film he has ever made, and yet it is dearly the most complex in terms of what it all means. It follows his normal themes of existentialism, a humunculus-driven examination of the curiosity of this life and how meaningless and meaninglessly complicated it is in the scope of actually experiencing real things while we are here… But he does it using the artificial itself, and there is even an artificial stand-in for what is real and what is needed in the form of an antique sex toy that is foreign in culture and language, disassembled, and leaking a fluid that the audience is left to deduce from where and what it is.
Regardless, the film was exactly what I expected from a Kaufman film. It is funny, disorienting, and full of human intricacy and questions about life and the nature of living. An absolute masterpiece.
I read this book as the first Stephen King joint since I was fifteen, and I was blown away. King is a master storyteller, and he is also a genius. He is a great writer, but you can tell he is constantly holding back to appease to the widest audience possible, except that there are little places in his books where the corners of the sticker tear away in a single sentence and his wings unfurl into something magnificent. When I read 11.22.63 as an adult almost twenty years and an undergraduate and graduate degree in literature later, I was seriously in awe at what he is able to manage on the page. I mean really. He is able to draw the most beautiful compromise between content, character, and context, and deliver something accessible and beautiful to his audience.
The problem with King is the problem with directors and other writers. His movies are garbage – not his fault, but the fault of the artists who try to fit too much in, do too much with their interpretation of the text that it loses its mood and tone, or simply don’t have the budget or the actors to do much better than a network television special. Why was Kubrick’s Shining so good? Honestly, because he didn’t try to make the book and he had the talent and the budget and he wrote it and ….hell, he is Kubrick.
This show, however, is insanely good. It leaves a lot out, and I mean a lot, but that is the beauty of what has been executed here. Enter Bad Robot and JJ Abrams. That said, it is well written, and focuses on characterization and making them three dimensional rather than the horror or the spooky aspects of time travel. If you explain it, you ruin it, right? It is also notable what the writers leave out – absolutely no need to cover everything. Next, fantastic performances and direction in every episode. Simply put, the manner in which the piece is executed shows an attention to detail and stunning dedication to authenticity and believability. The entire ensemble with Franco at the helm is something to be very proud of…That said, the piece isn’t filmed on location in New England and avoids the story about the town it takes place in, so that was a bit of a disappointment. Finally, the budget. They spent the money to make all of this a show to remember, and frankly, I can’t remember a piece taking King’s work as a series and executing it so well with the exception of Shawshank, Misery, Stand By Me, and Apt Pupil…Maybe Green Mile…But these are the drama pieces that he wrote with great characterization that focused on the work as a marker of mood and tone, and not just a plot while the characters walk themselves into a meat grinder.
Hulu, Bad Robot, and everyone involved should be proud of this one. Looking forward to the rest of the story in the next few weeks.