Anima, a collaboration between Paul Thomas Anderson and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, is an unapologetically unique musical short with enough clever direction and surreal imagery to satisfy cinephiles and music fans alike.
With only a fifteen-minute run time, Anima is advertised on Netflix as “Auteur Cinema.” This is a good jumping-off point for an in-depth discussion on the film because, without the audience’s knowledge of PTA behind the camera, there could be a tendency to dismiss the artistic merit of the piece. With certain aspects bordering on artistic vanity, Anderson lends the type of credence necessary to establish the presentation. This to say, we assume a deeper meaning and make it our job to find it, rather than just dismissing it as overinflated pretentious garbage like we would if the bus scene was a Miley Cyrus music video rather than a component of a PTA film. Anderson draws us in, but the chilling choreography, beautiful cinematography, and wistfully ambiguous set design keeps us sticking around. The sets and locales are perfectly designed as they balance what is known and what is strange to create the type of juxtaposition that exists most regularly within a dream. That is the motif this film sets up. It creates a dream-like world that entrances the viewer while inviting them to become a part of it. Certain shots feel out of place but in a way that tracks within the logic of the film. In a way that feels reminiscent of much of Anderson’s previous work, mistakes feel intentional and almost needed. The dancers are not always in perfect synchronization, but that only helps to increase the disorientation of the film.
In a similar fashion to the opening twenty-odd minutes of his 2007 classic, There Will Be Blood, Anderson’s affinity for silent film making is on full display. His editing is paced well, and the camera is rather unspectacular in a way that feels necessary as the real action should be happening in front of it. As far as the performance of leading man Thom Yorke goes, Buster Keaton, he is not. While he is game, which is essential when dealing with this type of subject matter, he never really feels natural in his role, or rather feels too natural in a cinematic world slightly off-kilter. His attempt at the Chaplin-esque turnstile bit falls short for this very reason. He seems as though he is doing too much and never trusts his movements to convey the story the way a great silent film star can. He still lends an incredible score, and really gives it his all which certainly deserves some applause.
All in all, Anima is everything a fan of either of the co-collaborators could hope it would be. It is a surreal image of a post-punk nightmare that moves at a gripping pace with no shortage of intensely unearthly imagery. Most importantly, however, it is a healthy dose of PTA for those of us still re-watching Phantom Thread clips on youtube.