Puppet Shows: No place for Women

For anyone who has seen Anomalisa, it is an understatement to say that it is worthy of analysis.  From Fregoli syndrome to the monotony of life, this film can be interpreted in myriad contexts.  This analysis will delve into the representation women.  Anomalisa includes four main women who are strategically placed in Michael’s, the protagonist’s, life in order to fortify his character.  Lisa, his main love interest is the object of male gaze.  She provides brief pleasure and is dropped when she can no longer fulfill Michael’s needs.  Two fleeting women are the other sources of femininity.  These women perpetuate an autonomous man vs. submissive woman notion.  The final ‘prominent’ female in the film was Michael’s wife.  She is nameless. She is nearly voiceless. And she assists Michael only in giving him a heteronormative relationship to further his life’s monotony.  Thus, while Anomalisa is an incredibly intricate and insightful work of art, its portrayal of women is nauseatingly neglectful.

Anomalisa is mid-life crisis movie.  Michael is a 50ish man on a business trip.  He’s a customer service professional and author who speaks at national conferences.  Bouncing from airport to hotel to bar, he dabbles with women and does his work.  Then, he returns home to his ‘loving’ family who dote on him, but bore him with monotony.  This is a relatable story, the traveling, tired business man.  Intriguing viewers with its narcissistic scopophilic nature, Anomalisa seems like anything but an anomaly.  However, the most interesting part isn’t realized until about twenty minutes into the movie.  Everyone, except for Michael, has the same voice.  Additionally, all the characters have faces that can be removed and replaced (individuals are robotic under their flesh masks).  One female stands out to Michael: Lisa.  She becomes Anomalisa and Michael becomes enamored as he realizes her voice is different.  Not only this, but she has a unique face. There’s a scar, so it cannot be interchanged.  The two make plans to elope, but she quickly fades into the murmur of every other voice, and Michael’s infatuation fades, too.

Lisa opens as the object of the gaze and eradicated once deemed unworthy.  Initially, Lisa is a typical Bridget Jones post-feminist, described by Angela McRobbie (12).  She’s “celebrated for her scatterbrain and endearing femininity”, especially in her awkward rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s famous tune (McRobbie 12).

Enforcing McRobbie’s description of this post-feminist woman who has, “sexual freedom, the right to drink, smoke, have fun in the city and be economically independent,” Lisa is quite capably traveling without a man (12).  Nonetheless, she is obviously the object of the male gaze.  For Michael, Lisa is the refreshing outside voice his plain world demands.  He receives pleasure in listening to her, not for her words, but for her tone.  Frivolous, her thoughts aren’t influential. Hence, it isn’t important who she is, rather how he perceives her for his entertainment. “She is the…the love or fear she inspires in the hero,… who makes him act the way he does.  In herself the woman has not the slightest importance,” explains Budd Boetticher as quoted by Laura Mulvey (4).  The only aspirations Lisa voices are those of being with Michael and making their life together.  But as soon as they discuss this, she becomes a part of his mundane world.  She isn’t the anomaly he once saw her as.  Thus, her voice loses its charm and he leaves.  In this film, the central woman revolves around the male protagonist.  When she pleases him, she exists.  When she doesn’t, she is gone.

While Lisa is the most featured female, there are two other women worth noting.  These women constitute all other women’s representation, since there are so few shown.  Again, these women don’t have personalities themselves, but just enhance Michael’s character.  Lisa’s friend, Em, serves to show Michael is ‘choosing’ Lisa; he’s not taking whoever’s convenient.  The other female is Michael’s old flame.  When Michael calls her, she arrives to meet him at his hotel, literally at his beck and call. She is divorced and sexually frustrated.  As McRobbie noted about modern women, she maintains the stigma that, “without a partner, she’ll be isolated, marginalized from the world (20).”  Michael’s former love has clearly derailed since losing Michael.  The film makes it seem as though she needs him to be happy.  Again, relying on Michael for existence. This misrepresentation of women gives a false portrayal of women as a whole.  Upon analyzing Anomalisa’s use of women, it becomes evident that white women need men for happy existence and are brought to life to support men.  They do as Michael bids.

The final women seen in Anomalisa is the plain wife.  Once more, she is there to support Michael and serve his lifestyle.  Nameless, his wife is heard over the phone and seen when Michael returns.  She provides a typical heteronormative marriage.  In Hansen-Miller Gill’s piece on masculinity, he states, “adulthood itself is presented as synonymous with heterosexual monogamy (12).” Gill continues, “the ‘patriarchal dividend’, Connell (1996) argues, benefits all men… (12)” When adulthood is equated to marriage, it seems essential that Michael have a wife.  Love isn’t the main concern.  No, he must have a wife just to fulfill his place in society.  Thus, even Michael’s wife is only present to bolster him.  She does not have any influential lines and she doesn’t change or develop on her own.

Interestingly, I realized there were about as many women in the Coffman theatre as were in the film…4.  This cannot justly exemplify the experience at every showing of Anomalisa.  In total, there were twelve people in the theatre.  On a college campus at 10:00 P.M. on Saturday, few students were interested in watching a movie.  However, I expected more since the film was free.  Perhaps, it is a supply and demand type complex.  Nonetheless, those who were there, appeared to be slightly older than me.  There were two groups of friends and two couples.  During the film, all viewers seemed enthralled.  They watched intently.  After the film, there was slight chatter, quieter than at the beginning.  Because the movie ended abruptly, viewers left perplexed. From my analysis, it appeared everyone took the film seriously.  Anomalisa would be easy to excuse as ‘just weird’.  But everyone there seemed intent on understanding the message.

As far as the economics of my experience, I was fortunate.  I didn’t know my ticket was free, so I went to the Snacks table and asked for two tickets.  He told me to walk right in, no cost.  He didn’t pressure any snacks on us and didn’t mind that we brought our own drinks.  Because of this noninvasive environment, I felt comfortable. I was far less intimidated by bombarding advertisements and marketing ploys!

Another aspect of my movie going experience to note: I felt forced to stay through the entire film.  Walking out of a movie is a statement.  Even though I was bored and utterly confused, I never wanted to be so bold as to leave.  At home, I would have turned the film off.  It was beneficial for me to stay, though, because I ended up enjoying analyzing the film from both a holistic perspective and a feminist perspective.

Works Cited

Gill, R., & Hansen-Miller, D. (2011). Lad flicks: Discursive reconstructions of masculinity in popular film: Feminism at the movies : understanding gender in contemporary popular cinema. In H. Radner, & E. Pullar (Eds.), Feminism at the movies : understanding gender in contemporary popular cinema. (pp. 36-50). Oxon; New York: Routledge.

Mcrobbie, Angela. “Postfeminism and Popular Culture.” Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture Interrogating Postfeminism (2007): 27-39. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.

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