If you’ve ever seen a Charlie Kaufman film you know what to expect. Something unique, tender, strange, often nightmarish, and yet beautifully real. An elegantly framed exploration of ideas and fears which feel familiar even if you’d never thought about them before.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a perfect example of this experience for me. It sings so directly to my heart that I almost find it hard to believe Kaufman didn’t write it with me in mind. Of course he didn’t, but having now seen Anomalisa it’s becoming clear that I’m exactly the type of person he’s speaking to.
To simplify the story is to do the film an injustice, however, to summarise, Anomalisa focuses on a lonely, middle-aged man named Michael who has carved a career as a sort of Customer Service Guru. He’s written a best-selling book and travels around the country to give keynote speeches and he exists in a muted hell where everyone looks and sounds the same. This all changes when, one night, he encounters someone who stands out from the crowd, an anomaly, the Lisa of the title.
The film heavily references the Fregoli Delusion throughout (remember I said everyone looks and sounds the same? That’s because people who suffer the Fregoli Delusion actually believe everyone is the same person) and you can read many theories surrounding the issue and the film itself, but while I enjoy diving beneath these layers it was my emotional response to the film which really struck me. For example, by making everyone identical except Lisa, I felt like Kaufman was visually representing how that special person we fall in love with literally stand out from the crowd. I’m probably being a soppy romantic, but boy did that strike a chord with me.
There are other touches too – familiar moments which resonated with me. The clumsy and awkward attempt Michael makes to reconnect with an old flame, half desperate to reclaim a past which has been burnt and damaged beyond repair; the blunt honesty behind Michael’s admission that he drinks for fun; the way he falls in love with Lisa’s voice, even finding the way she sings Girls Just Wanna Have Fun enchanting. And to cap it off there is a funny, yet surprisingly natural sex scene which somehow portrays that moment of first sleeping with a loved one far better, and more realistically, than hundreds of other films. The effort that must have gone into making that scene not feel weird or creepy must have been ridiculous.
And then there’s the breakdown. I won’t spoil too much, but, as I said, if you’ve watched a Charlie Kaufman film before, you know roughly what you’re going to get and his melancholic tone is present and correct here.
After having spent the night with Lisa, the one woman who stood out so clearly from the rest, Michael begins to have doubts. He’s not an entirely sympathetic character and as you watch him becoming gruff, rude and inconsistent, you start to see him for who he really is – a frail man who does not take responsibility for his actions, is flighty, impulsive, and who doesn’t really know what he wants. This comes to a head in the keynote speech, delivered to an enthralled crowd, Lisa included, who watch as he rambles and mutters and works through his thoughts and fears on a very public platform.
“I’ve lost my love. She’s an unmoored ship and she’s drifting off to sea. I have no one to talk to. I have no one to talk to. I have no one to talk to. I’m sorry.”
David Thewlis’ marvellous, tragic delivery gives those lines real weight, delivered in his typical, emotionally vibrant Yorkshire accent, but just take a moment to consider those words.
“I’ve lost my love”
He’s not talking about a person, he’s talking about his sense of love. For others, for himself, for feeling love in any form. His ability to love or be loved has floated away. That is heartbreaking and familiar to me.
I feel like I’ve lost my love.
Call it a coincidence, but in the same week I watched Anomalisa I read an article which claimed that we only ever truly love three people in our lives. By that count I’ve already hit the milestone and I have to admit it all aligned, merging with my feelings following the most recent loss, that I’m going through a similar experience to Michael – Desperately clutching at straws, making bad decisions, unsure what I’m supposed to do because I can no longer feel my way around it.
This is why, despite signing up for dating apps and trying to put myself back into the market, I’m not able to fully commit to the idea because I no longer understand how it works. I no longer recognise it or know what to do with it.
Except that’s not where this story ends. In response to the article a friend tweeted me –
“I don’t believe it’s true. I feel we have a vast capacity for love which constantly evolves”
And I think they’re right. I’ve seen it in myself and others too. At times it may feel like we’ll never love again, that we’ve lost our love, but that’s not the end. We adapt, learn, evolve and move on. We heal, in time, and allow ourselves to love again. Sometimes it takes weeks, sometimes it takes years, but I do believe we are capable of finding our love again if we try. If we don’t give up and let that unmoored ship drift away too far.
That’s why, despite struggling with the world of dating and the profiles and the questions and the awful, gut-wrenching, decision over which profile picture to choose which doesn’t make me look like a complete twat, I’m not giving up. I’m giving myself time because I need it, and because I think I can evolve and grow from this to love again.
At least I hope I can. And hope is a good place to start.