‘Anomalisa’ and those divine voices we hear as song

by DGO Web Administrator

It was the last time I ever saw her, the woman I spent 11 years of my life with. We were at a Bank of America in Manchester, Connecticut, dissolving the bank accounts we shared, just as we’d seen our relationship and the life we’d built do the same in the previous months.

I hadn’t seen her in five weeks, and I remember her eyes filled with anger, disgust and pain. But more so, I remember her voice. When she spoke to the bank associate she was pleasant, cheerful, using the voice I knew. But as if flipping a switch, as if her voice had been commandeered by someone else, anything uttered to me lacking. It was subtle and may not have been noticeable to anyone else, but its joyous energy and playfulness had heartbreakingly evaporated.

I began to wonder that day about how pain and anger manifests in one’s voice. How does love – when it grows, when it stagnates, when it ends – physically affect one’s vocal chords? What tangible transformations are taking place physiologically, cellularly, molecularly? Perhaps these are the things that will serve as evidence – scientific proof – of heartache and love lost.

I was reminded of this experience Sunday after seeing the new stop-motion animation puppet film “Anomalisa” at Animas City Theatre, written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman, the greatest living writer, according to me. Three movies in my top five were written by Kaufman, “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation” and “Eternal Sunshine.” I walk away from each of his movies transformed intellectually and emotionally, thinking about the world in a different way. “Anomalisa” was no different.

The film follows sad sack Michael Stone, a beloved author and customer service guru visiting Cincinnati to give a lecture. It’s clear from the opening scene that something is peculiar with every other character’s voice. It doesn’t matter who Michael talks to – man or woman, young or old, the cab driver, his wife, an ex-flame, his young son – they all sound the same, these soft, gentle, masculine voices (all, in fact, voiced by actor Tom Noonan). That is except for one person, Lisa.

Voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lisa is a blushing Michael Stone fan staying at the same hotel to attend his lecture who can’t believe her luck in running into the superstar in her profession. There’s nothing particularly striking about Lisa. She’s not terribly remarkable or interesting, a bit pedestrian. She lacks self-confidence and doesn’t think she’s terribly smart. She admits to not having been intimate with anyone in eight years and is embarrassed about her body and self-conscious about a scar on her face.

But when she speaks, Michael hears song. He is smitten and giddy, her voice electrifying to him, a voice that pulls him from his own darkness. Lisa’s melancholy a capella rendition of the song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” brings him to tears and left me in awe, transfixed. He revels in her light for as long as he can.

It all made me think about what it is about those whose paths we cross who unexpectedly stand apart from everyone else – anomalies – people whose energy we devour, whose voices we hear as song, where a remarkable aura exists and you just want to harness it, to bask in it.

I wonder what is happening physiologically in this science of attraction. What is it that draws us to another? Maybe it’s their mannerisms, the way they look down and to the side when they laugh, or the level of empathy we see in their eyes. Maybe it’s their words and ideas or maybe it’s just something residing inside their voice, ethereal waves, something in the timbres and tones that we can’t quite define.

At some point, emotions get pushed through our bloodstream and nervous system, vocal chords vibrate, ear drums buzz and somehow, through it all, we connect.


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