White Men, White Puppets—They all Suck.
Anomolisa—a brilliantly strung together stop-motion puppet show—was ironically, one of the most insightful pieces on human nature I’ve ever seen. Charlie Kaufman has once again jumped down the rabbit hole that is our subconscious, giving us a nuanced narrative that weaves nihilism with hope with adultery with man’s need for human contact. He has also jam packed hetero-white male privilege into 90 minutes, showing us just how painfully self-deprecating and unappreciative those with the most can be.
Michael, a 40-something customer service “prodigy,” has packed his bags once again to attend and speak at a conference and advertise his latest book. We immediately get a glimpse into his loneliness, as his eerie Holiday Inn-like room remains the setting for about three fourths of the whole movie. The hotel is, of course, called Hotel Fregoli, named after the ‘Fregoli delusion,’ a psychological disorder which causes one to believe that everyone (except him/her) is the same person, the most painfully obvious manifestation of vainness in Michael’s case. Michael is anything but unaware to his numbness, realizing that every person he comes in contact with has the same (white) man’s face and voice. Michael is all Michael has then, all he can visually define from the “other,” but remains so depressed by his life that he can’t even access his own thoughts clearly, as they come out twisted and conspiracy theory-like during his a speech he gives at the conference.
Enter love interest, Lisa. An insecure, sexually reserved middle-aged woman who worships the ground upon which Michael walks. She is vital in his ultimate downfall, as the false glimmer of normalcy that she offers—her voice and face are distinguishable from others—shatters over breakfast, as her words morph into a low-pitched unrecognizable voice. Michael is more and more annoyed with her with each coming moment, the way she chews her food eventually driing him mad—And for the first time we realize that Michael’s circumstances are not to be pitied— He’s brought loneliness onto himself. Michael is sad until he is comfortable, then he is picky and self-righteous, and we finally see white men’s greatest downfall—they feel sorry for themselves for the things that they have created, yet make no effort to change themselves and thus the circumstances around them. In this case, Michael has created a life and career in which he finds no meaning; He is going through the motions and discovering nothing new. As he “searches” for meaning, AKA takes advantage of an insecure and thus submissive woman who sees him as an industry God, he does so only for his own benefit, so that he can hold onto the only person who breaks his Fregoli delusion. He fails to recognize all the positive actions he could have made to better his situation as well as those of others: He could have given Lisa career guidance, invited his family to the conference, and bought his kid NOT a toy from a stingy sex shop (really dude?). Everyone in Michael’s life falls on the sword for him, yet he fails to appreciate their sacrifice or acknowledge his privilege. Michael is selfishly searching inward for meaning, when it’s really all around him.
Michael is in a failing marriage, and offers little to no enthusiasm for his child—and when his family tries to surprise him upon his arrival home, he immediately becomes flustered and exhibits ungratefulness. I absolutely hated Michael by the end of the film, which, I believe, is Kaufman’s genius. It is easy to give up, to surrender to life’s conditions and be bitter that in this moment, you are here and not somewhere else. It’s hard to put any sort of effort to change that status quo, even if it’s simply a change in attitude. Michael’s small “attitude change” is not one at all, as it is totally dependent on Lisa’s innocence, her obedience, and her “smallness” as a woman. In their interactions, Michael is inherently sexist in the ways he belittles her, making her “his” and then trying to control her every move—The way she eats, and even her future plans. Michael is white privilege wrapped into a sad Kaufman tale, in which our white male protagonist has the opportunity be grateful for the house, family, woman, and reputation that he has been able to get, and to teach another struggling person in his field his tricks. Instead, he makes every interaction about himself, ruining the conference, ruining Lisa’s possible independent future, and ruining his family’s efforts at reconnecting. Michael is able to think himself into a hole, able to imagine that everyone around him is the same as him (upperclass and white), and thus unable to see his position of power as a gift and gateway to help others. The fact that Michael fails to recognize any minority people around him signifies two things: One, that he is afforded a life not given to most, and is thus only surrounded by like-minded, gendered, and looking people, because those are the only people able to live those lives; And two, it means that Michael is brazenly ignorant, unable to accept that there are people with conditions unsimilar to this own. I fucking hate Michael.
I’d also like to mention the irony in Michael’s customer service career. This is a man who, for a living, offers his help to others every single day. He is not the stereotypical image of a customer service rep we have ingrained in our minds, a blue-collar 20-30 something; He is a successful author, mentor, and boss, but is inherently a fraud in that his actions do not mimic this stellar “helper” attitude that he markets in his books. Michael is fortunate enough to be able to leave his job if he wanted to, and respectably leave his wife for a better relationship with Lisa, a wonderful woman who would give up her world for him. Instead, he chooses to remain in self-induced purgatory, feeding into his own ignorant depression rather than swatting it away with all the resources available to someone like him.
Anomolisa is a brilliant portrait of a modern cis white male’s mid-life crisis: A failure to distinguish himself and his life from those around him, and a failure to recognize those who are unlike him at all. Kaufman has, much like in Synecdoche NYC and Being John Malkovich, illustrated the batten down human condition, and used the same type-character to do so, a very specific and telling choice. But maybe, even if we are criticizing and highlighting flaws, it is time to stop giving stage time to these characters, those who have the most externally but lack a rewarding internal idea of the self, those with the highest awarded privilege. Maybe it is time to underscore the experiences of those labeled the “other” in entertainment, the minorities, and those who don’t fall under the neat umbrella of cis and white. The inner-turmoil of such characters is one upon which I’d like to shed awareness…And besides, I already have a pretty good idea about the first world problems of white men, it’s unfuckingavoidable.