Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Review: Anomalisa

You learn a lot about a director when you meet him inhibition-free. This week I met three. Quentin at his Tarantinoest impresses and shocks in equal measure: he wants you to know he’s the smartest guy in the room, then launches into a three-hour riff on The Aristocrats. Alejandro at his Iñárritmost might actually be the smartest guy in the room, but give him a sip of liquor and he’ll just go on and on about how “life affirming” Nietzsche is and something about misery and bears. Three hours of raving about the “beauty of communication” later you’ll realize he’s never even asked you your name.

Charlie at his most Kaufmanesque. Now that’s a guy to drink with. He always comes prepared with a few hilarious anecdotes to power through that awkward, sober, shoe-gazing prologue: the cab driver on the way over who wouldn’t shut up about the zoo and the chili, the awkward moment in the elevator when no one could make eye contact. One beer deep and you’re talking art, philosophy, movies, lit; he’s got an opinion on everything, and none of it feels consciously smart. Three rounds in and he says enough chit chat, how are you doing — like, really, how are you. He doesn’t make it weird and he doesn’t get pushy, but he also doesn’t undercut it with a joke. So you talk about all of it: the loneliness, the monotony of day to day life, the feeling you can’t shake that everyone and everything is blurring together. That existence might be profound on paper, but it damn sure doesn’t feel like it from where you’re sitting. You make a self-deprecating crack about your “angsty phase”, but he doesn’t smile. He says yeah, I feel that too, and it isn’t a phase.

He says meaning is what you make of it. Some nights you’ll make a surplus, and you’ll learn to squeeze those nights for everything they’re worth. Clementine and Lisa are moments, not saviors, and they won’t bear the weight of your fantasies for long. Commit them to memory as vividly as possible, because most nights you won’t make much. Most nights you’ll sit and remember the better nights, the times you felt on the cusp of something new. When those are worn out you’ll take solace in the faint glimmers: that goofy doll you bought on a business trip to Tokyo, that beautiful film about puppets that moved you in spite of yourself. But the real secret, he says, the alchemy, is making something out of boredom. Notice how peculiar, how hilarious the shape of your loneliness is; how these empty, monotonous transactions are distinctly yours to have. Remember their texture and share them with someone else. It might not add up to Meaning or Truth, but it certainly helps pass the time.

You think it reminds you of what the other guy was saying about Nietzsche, and that “life affirming” sounds a lot cornier than it feels. You order another velvet martini while Charlie launches back into the cab driver bit. In the background Tarantino says something vulgar about Mexicans while Iñárritu gently weeps. You soak in every eccentric detail. Tonight you’re on the cusp of something new.

See my review on Letterboxd