(Note: The entire film is done in realistic-looking STOP-MOTION ANIMATION with marionettes. Also it is set in 2005 when it was originally written, as a radio play.)
In darkness, we hear different voices talking to each other -- but they're all the same voice (Tom Noonan). We see an airplane in the clouds and then pull back to reveal we're in another airplane with Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) looking out the window. He is flying in to Cincinnati and reads a letter from a former girlfriend a vision of her appears over the text, yelling the angry letter at him. The plane lands and the man seated next to Michael apologizes for grabbing his hand during the descent it was a reflex because he's a nervous flyer and he's used to having his wife with him. Michael says it's okay. But suggests that the man let go now.
Michael goes through the terminal where all the people sound exactly the same as they talk. He goes outside and asks the cab driver to take him to the Fregoli Hotel downtown (Unrelated note: it's not stated in the film but this is actually the name of a disease in which delusional people think everyone they encounter is the same person in disguise). The cab driver begins a conversation with Michael, asking him if he's British. Michael says, yes. The cab driver tells him he has an ear for accents. Michael tells him he's lived here for a long while. The driver asks, "Cincinnati?" He says, no, he lives in Los Angeles. He meant the States. The cab driver laughs, saying he loves the phrases British people use like "the States" and "shrimp on the barbie." He repeats that he has an ear for accents. Michael asks if there is a toy store near the hotel and he is told that there is one very close and he can't miss it. He then tells Michael about the things he should do while he's in Cincinnati including visiting the zoo, which has some rare endangered species. He also is adamant he try the Cincinnati chili which is nothing like the chili Michael's had in Los Angeles or London. Michael says he's only there for one day. The man keeps asking him, "What? Can you repeat that?" So he says "I. AM. ONLY. HERE. FOR. THE. DAY." The cab driver responds with the same broken tone, telling him the zoo won't take up too much of his time -- it's not too big or small, it's zoo-sized. And the chili will only take about an hour.
Michael gets to the Fregoli. As he walks to the reception desk, people begin whispering, "It's Michael Stone" over and over. The man checks him in to a smoking room with a king-sized bed. He asks if he can have a quiet room. The man types on the computer for a long while and says it's been taken care of. A bellhop comes and leads him to the elevator, telling him "After you" and “Go ahead” even though Michael keeps entering and exiting before he can prompt him. They get to the room and the bellhop points out random things like "This is the bathroom" and gives advice like not to forget his room key when he leaves. He loiters and Michael gives him money for a tip -- the bellhop responds with incredulity as if he hadn't even thought of it. He gives Michael his card and says to call him if there's any trouble. Michael tosses the card, goes to the bathroom. He takes an antidepressant pill. Urinates in the toilet. He turns on the television, which turns to a hotel channel explaining what to do in case of a fire -- first feel the door for heat and then fill the bathtub with water. He looks down at the magazines by the phone -- one is a local magazine with a story encouraging visitors to "TRY THE CHILI." He wants to call for room service but there are tons and tons of buttons with pictures of food on them. He finally presses one and the voice on the other line (once again, the same voice as all the other characters) says, "Hello, Michael Stone. Would you like room service?" Michael orders a salad and an entree. The man on the phone asks if he wants to add alcohol but Michael says he'll get something from the mini bar. The voice repeats the order back in elaborate detail, naming each item in each dish. He says it's 9:13 and it will arrive in about 35 minutes, which would be 9:48. Michael hangs up. He then uses his cell phone to call his wife -- who has the same voice as the taxi driver, the receptionist, the bellhop, the room service operator. She asks him about his room and he says it's nothing special but positively notes that it has a big bed. She tells him that’s good for him because of all the tossing and turning he does. He says it's thrashing because of his sleeping problems. She then says she's going to put their son on the phone even though Michael insists not to -- his wife is too busy talking to their son to hear him. The son comes on, sounding exactly like the wife (a male voice), and he says he's dressed as a pirate and asks his dad if he's going to bring him a present. The conversation is short and the boy says goodbye.
Michael lights a cigarette and begins practicing his speech for the event the next day. He looks out the window. A man is watching porn, alone in a neighboring office building, and begins to masturbate. He looks up at Michael who has to step behind the curtain to prevent further awkwardness. Michael goes out in the hall, gets ice from the ice machine. A couple is fighting in the hallway but both the man and the woman sound identical. Michael goes back into his room and turns on the TV flips from the channel advising how to handle a fire in the hotel. Watches a scene from "My Man Godfrey.” Michael pours himself a drink from the mini bar. He opens the phone book and finds Bella Amarossi He calls her. The same male voice we've heard answers. He asks if Bella is there. She says this is him and asks who he is. He says, sorry, she doesn't sound like he remembered. He says it's Michael Stone -- they haven't seen each other in 10 years. She points out that it's been 11. He tells her he's in town and decided to look her up in the phone book. Tells her he now has a wife and a son and asks if she’s also remarried -- she abruptly says, no. He tells her he's there for a conference and staying at the Fregoli. She points out this is a fancy, expensive hotel. He suggests they meet. She tells him she has gained some weight and doesn't want him to be surprised. He says he doesn't care. She then points out that she also had her front tooth replaced after she fell and hit a cement bench but he probably won't be able to tell because they did a good job blending it.
Michael goes down to the lounge. He sees an attractive, full-figured woman enter. But she meets someone else. Then another attractive, full-figured lady enters with an out of shape woman. The out of shape woman approaches, asking "Michael?" They sit and talk with Michael ordering the specific drink he always gets. She is still bitter about him walking out on her 11 years earlier. He suggests going up to his room. She gets angry at him and leaves.
Michael goes to the toy store by the hotel. He talks to the clerk and there is a giant dildo on the counter. He realizes the taxi driver told him about a store that sold the wrong kind of toys. He asks the man if there's anything that he could get his son, who is a pirate. The clerk doesn't have any suggestions. Michael takes note of a large sex toy behind the clerk's head of a Japanese woman's upper torso -- one half of her body is "flesh" and the other is exposed framing. It is an mechanized doll with a moving mouth. Michael is told it's a very popular item, from Japan.
Michael goes upstairs and takes a shower -- at first getting mad at the shower for being too hot, then for being too cold. While he's drying off, he begins to wash his face and hears a FEMALE VOICE (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the hallway. He freaks out, struggling to put on his pants. He goes in the hallway but it's now empty. He knocks on doors hoping to find the woman, telling other hotel attendants, with the same voice he always hears, that he's looking for a friend and doesn't remember his room number. He knocks on a door and a voluptuous blond woman answers, seductively. She then apologizes and says he isn't who she was expecting. He says he was looking for a friend but he guess she's not there. She then recognizes him as Michael Stone and says he's the reason they're in town -- to go to his conference the next day. Then her friend, Lisa, is revealed in the bathroom excited because she’s a huge fan of Michael. When she speaks, it’s the same female voice he heard. She comes out of the bathroom and gushes over him, telling him she loves his book, which she holds up (It is titled "How May I Help You Help Them?", revealed to be a self-help book for businesses). She tells him they both are customer service representatives and their business used their book and now productivity is up 70 percent. She is very awkward and tells him she doesn't have makeup on and for him not to look at her. Despite her insecurities, he is charmed by her and tells her she has a great voice. She is taken aback by the compliment and figures that's why she must do well in phone sales. He invites the two women downstairs to have a drink with him.
They go to the hotel bar and he orders the same drink as before; they get apple mojitos. Lisa continues being awkward, telling him about the different items that the baked goods company they work for makes (junk food akin to Oreos and Cheetos). She says that she plays the Jew's harp a little but doesn't want to say "Jew's harp" loudly in case she offends Jews. She badly sings along to the music playing overhead. She tells them that they came from Ohio just to see him speak and that they splurged on the fancy hotel because it's sort of a vacation even though she actually can't afford it.
They go back in the elevator, all now buzzed. Lisa complains that she didn't get to press the button to their floor and that she loves pressing buttons and that must be weird, being a button presser lover. When they're headed back to their room, Michael asks Lisa to come back to his. Lisa is surprised, saying that men usually are interested in Emily, not her. He says Emily is lovely but he seems to have connected with her. Emily encourages her to go back to his room because he's "gorgeous." As she walks, she actually falls flat on her face. She is embarrassed but has such low self-esteem, it’s not out of character.
They go back to his room and it takes four tries with the key card until the light finally turns green instead of red. Lisa says it’s really cute how Michael turned down his covers and put slippers on the floor. He points out this is turndown service and she admits to never having stayed at a fancy hotel before. Michael sits on the bed and Lisa takes a seat across from him, in the chair at the desk. She doesn't understand why he likes her because usually Emily gets all the attention when they go out -- she hasn't dated someone in eight years and that guy was a man in his 60s who had a daughter older than her. And he pursued her simply because he figured she wouldn't say no and he was right. She tells him she's not very smart and didn't go to college, didn't even graduate high school. When she read his book, she had to use a dictionary to look up all the words she didn't know. He likes that she read his book with a dictionary. He asks her more about herself and she mentions liking music, with her favorite being Cyndi Lauper. He asks her to sing something. She says she can't sing -- well, she can sing, everyone can sing, but she can't sing well. He prompts her anyway to sing. She nervously begins to sing an a cappella version of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." After hearing so many people with the same voice, Michael is touched hearing her voice as she sings. He begins to tear up and she tells her it was beautiful but she interrupts by singing the male refrain of "Girls, they wanna-- they wanna have fun. Girls. They wannathey wanna have fun." She tells him she relates to that song because she also just wants to walk in the sun. She asks him why that song made him cry; he says he loves her voice so much. She brushes her hair back and accidentally reveals a large scar above her right eye -- it's been hidden because she has always kept a strand of hair over it. He asks how it happened and she says she doesn't want to talk about it. He asks if he can kiss her there. She rambles on about how weird it is that he wants to kiss her there. He tells her he likes her and tries to relax her by asking about her day. They lay back on the bed and he kisses her repeatedly on her face while she tells him a long story about how Emily and her got up early in Ohio, drove to Starbucks, she got a grande mocha Frappuccino while Emily got a chai latte. The drive would only take about four hours if they drove at 60 miles an hour, with bathroom breaks. They would just stay on the 71 almost the whole time because the hotel is right off the freeway. They played No Doubt in the car because Emily likes them. She brought a Sarah Brightman CD and she has a beautiful rendition of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" in Italian. Michael asks her to sing a little and she does. She explains she loves learning other languages -- Italian, Japanese of course, but not German because it sounds so angry. She wants to learn Portuguese and finds it fascinating that Brazil is the only country in all of South America where they speak Portuguese. All the while he kisses her, takes off her shirt so she's just in her bra. She says she used to hate being different but now she kind of likes it. It makes her unique, an anomaly -- that's a word she learned from his book. He says, she's Anomalisa. She likes that. He puts his hand on her skirt and she squirms. She says she's ticklish down there but it's okay, he can touch her. She even moves his hand down there to show him. He then moves down and slides her panties off, performs oral sex on her. She stays silent. He asks why she's not having a reaction, if she doesn't like it. She says she does but maybe he can be gentler. He is. When she's aroused, she asks him to come up there. They begin to have sex. He asks her if she talks during sex. She says she doesn't know, it's been at least eight years. He asks if she can talk (her voice is the first female one he's heard in years) and suggests she makes moaning sounds. She does and they have a short intercourse session. They go to sleep.
Michael and Lisa are woken up in the middle of the night by a call from the hotel manager; he tells Michael he needs to speak with him about a sensitive manner in private, that he needs to visit him in his office down in the basement. Michael goes down there and finds himself in a small office with dozens of employees typing at computers. They tell them the hotel manager is waiting for him and to go inside. Michael walks into a large warehouse-like room. The manager is at the far end, behind a desk -- he says that he had the option of a 3000 square foot office upstairs or this massive one so, of course, he chose the basement. Michael walks towards him but the manager insists Michael use the golf cart parked by the door. Michael drives it all around for a long while, finally driving it up the ramp. The manager sits at a desk in front of a framed picture of then president George W. Bush. Michael complains about being woken up, saying he has a speech to give. The manager says he knows, he has read Michael's book and the hotel's productivity has gone up 90 percent. He tells Michael he was informed that Michael was having relations in his room that night. Michael asks if that's a crime and the hotel manager laughs and says philandering is not uncommon in the hotel. He just says that it can be anyone but Lisa. The manager suggests if Michael wants to fuck someone, it should be him. Michael is freaked out and tries to get away in the golf cart but it just falls down a pit at the lip of the stage. He runs away back, into the reception area where all the receptionists are now ordinary-looking woman. The manager tells Michael that he can “be” with any of them, just not Lisa. One woman offers, in Tom Noonan’s voice, to let Michael fuck her. Michael runs up to his room, screaming. The bottom half of his face falls off (the joints of the puppets have been distinct throughout the entire film instead of being removed in post-production). He picks it up, puts it back on his face. He sees Lisa in the hall. He runs back to his room but she falls on her face. He gets to the room, tries four times to get his hotel key card to work. In the room, he sees a billboard outside the window for the Cincinnati Zoo with the description "It's zoo-sized."
Michael wakes up. Lisa tells him he was thrashing around in his sleep and even hit her in the face with his elbow, which she didn't mind. Michael apologizes, says he is known for doing this in his sleep. Michael asks her if she wants him to order room service. She asks if she can get scrambled eggs. At the table in the room, Lisa and Michael eat breakfast. Lisa asks what happens with them now; she knows he has a wife and son. He says he doesn't really because they don't exist because they're all the same person -- everyone is the same person except for her. He asks if Lisa would be willing to move to Los Angeles. She says, yes. As they eat, Michael notices she is letting her fork scrape against her teeth. He finally interrupts her, tells her to stop doing that. She apologizes, says people always tell her she's a pig when she eats. She continues eating and suggests going to the zoo after his conference. Michael gets distracted by her obnoxiously chewing with her mouth open. He asks her to stop. She then chews for a long while before she finishes her thought. Lisa continues about how the zoo has endangered species including polar bears, which aren't actually bears. As she drones on about trivial things, her voice begins to overlap with Tom Noonan's (who voices all the other characters). By the end of the meal, her voice is now entirely his.
Michael gives his speech to the crowd at the conference but he is mentally gone. He rambles on drunkenly, having a psychotic breakdown, murmuring how he doesn't love “her” anymore -- amidst giving tips from his book like how the key to good customer service is by remembering every person you meet has their own life, has their own childhood, should be treated like a friend, you should always talk with a smile even on the phone because people can tell. This is all ironic because Michael considers everybody as having the same voice thus the same identity (even though they all physically look different). He begins to mock their president (George W. Bush) for sending them to war, which upsets some of the crowd. He looks up at the lights. Begins to sweat. The speech goes horribly. Lisa is in the audience, mortified every time he mumbles about losing his feelings for his new love.
Michael returns home to his wife, who is voiced by Tom Noonan, as is their son who comes in asking for a present. Michael gives him the Japanese automaton with a moving mouthpiece that he got from the sex toyshop. The boy complains about it being a doll for girls. Michael's wife then points out it looks like semen is coming out of the mouth (we don't see this happening) and her son asks what semen is to which she replies "It's just a liquid." As they are arguing, dozens of people pop out of the living room for a surprise party. Michael asks who all these people are. His wife tells him they're all of his friends. He says he doesn't know any of them. The festivities continue and everyone speaks in the same voice. Michael's psyche grows crazy until the only sound he can hear is the Japanese female automaton singing a song in Japanese.
Lisa rides in a car that Emily is driving. She writes a letter to Michael, which we hear in voiceover her female voice again. She says she really enjoyed the short experience they had together and she understands that it was only temporary and is now over. She also said she looked up "anomalisa" in her Japanese-American dictionary and found out it means goddess of the sun. She hurriedly notes that she's not suggesting she is one though.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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A beautiful story told in stop-motion animation about Michael Stone, a man who hears everyone speaking with the same voice (on a deeper level, it suggests that they’re all the same indistinctive people). He flies to Cincinnati to give a conference on a popular self-help book he’s written. When he calls his wife and son, they have the same voice as everyone else. He invites an old flame who lives in the area to meet with him but she won’t go up to his room. After showering, he hears a female voice for the first time in ages he rushes to find her and she is Lisa, a very awkward woman with low self-esteem yet the only unique voice he’s heard in years. Michael ends up bonding with her and her travel companion, who coincidentally are there to attend his conference. He invites Lisa back to his room where she sings Cyndi Lauper and talks about how no one is usually attracted to her; they end up having sex. He has a nightmare that everybody throws themselves at him because of his fame. When he awakes, he has breakfast with Lisa and she begins to annoy him; as a result, her female voice fades in exchange for the same voice as everyone else. He returns home and all his friends are there for a surprise party but they all blend together for him and he doesn’t recognize any of them. Lisa writes him a goodbye letter thanking him for the short amount of time they were together.
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