Anima is proof Radiohead, Paul Thomas Anderson, Netflix must join forces for a sci-fi film or series

Prahlad Srihari

Jul 07, 2019 10:13:04 IST

You can never have enough Thom Yorke gifs. And just when we thought we were running out, the Radiohead frontman offers us a treasure trove of giffable moments in Anima, a 15-minute short film that comes in conjunction with his new solo album of the same name.

Anima is proof Radiohead, Paul Thomas Anderson, Netflix must join forces for a sci-fi film or series

Thom Yorke in a still from Anima. Netflix

Essentially an extended music video (for three of his new songs), this “one-reeler” (as they're calling it) presents an abstract moodscape, rather than a story, of isolation and defiance. Yorke synthesises his continuing OK Computer anxieties — about being digitally connected and socially disconnected — into an elaborately imagined world, placing our civilisation on an unavoidable collision course with dystopia.

Anima sees Yorke team up with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, whose mutually beneficial partnership with Radiohead multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood has already given us some of 21st century's greatest films, starting from There Will Be Blood to Phantom Thread.

Through the eyes of PTA, Yorke's electronic impulses and sweeping vocals perfectly soundtrack this bizarrely beautiful science-fiction romance. And it finds its home in — where else but — Netflix, which has already pushed ahead of other streaming platforms with innovations like the interactive Black Mirror episode ‘Bandersnatch’, Alfonso Cuaron's Oscar-winning black-and-white masterpiece Roma and the anthology series of animated shorts, LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS. So, it's hard to imagine a more satisfying ménage à trois than Radiohead + PTA + Netflix.

PTA opens on a crowded subway train, where Yorke's Keaton-esque protagonist begins to doze off like his fellow commuters. The passengers are all dressed in nondescript uniform and coats, curated from a catalogue of sci-fi movie tropes. When the synths in 'Not the News' begin bleeping and blooping, everyone exaggeratedly sway and bob their heads in unison with the beat. The mechanism of this capitalist spectacle — the cyclical commute between home and work — represents the unending hamster wheel for the millions of drained and depressed workers doing the daily 9-to-5 grind. "Who are these people?," Yorke rightly wonders. But amidst all this choreographed chaos, Yorke spots a beautiful woman (his real-life partner Dajana Roncione); their eyes lock across the crowded train and it turns into an adorable peek-a-boo routine. But as they reach their destination, with everyone rushing to exit the train, she forgets her lunchbox.

Anima’s dance sequences lay more emphasis on ensemble work but without suppressing Yorke's individuality.

Anima’s dance sequences lay more emphasis on ensemble work but without suppressing Thom Yorke's individuality. Netflix

The rest of the film sees PTA stage various tragicomic situations as Yorke tries to retrieve and return the lunchbox to its owner. He encounters various barriers, literal and metaphorical, in his mission. He traverses a tide of zombie-like workers across underground corridors and unwillingly participates in a Sisyphean routine with a dozen synchronised dancers trying to climb up a slope. He fights gravity and heavy winds as he comes to grips with his own agency as opposed to being a mere puppet in the hands of an unforeseen force. Like he sings in the accompanying track "Traffic", he "can't breathe" and he's "submerged", but he doesn't "submit".

Yorke eventually reunites with Roncione and the two mime their feelings for each other in a sweet pas de deux of sorts. Their dance is at times tender and balletic, at other times spontaneous and abstract. The soft keyboard motif on 'Dawn Chorus' adds a bittersweet feeling to their romance, maintaining a haunting level of surface tension throughout.

Soon, the sun begins to rise as they swirl and twirl through more colourful, less sterile urban settings before boarding a bus together, where they both drift into a more sweet slumber this time, ending the film on a potentially more optimistic note for our everyman.

The world of Anima could easily exist in a universe, somewhere between Metropolis and THX 1138 — evoking the underlying angst about capitalism and technology’s sway over both society and the individual. Yorke not only explores the place of the individual in an increasingly dehumanised world, he also examines themes of state oppression and body autonomy — something Janelle Monae has also consistently explored in her work, albeit with an altogether different sci-fi approach.

ANIMA - Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson - Thom Yorke, Dajana Roncione - Photo Credit: Netflix / Petr Dobias

Thom Yorke and Dajana Roncione in Anima. Netflix

There's also a sense of nostalgia and regret over the past as Yorke repeatedly wonders, "If you could do it all again", in 'Dawn Chorus'.

All this thematic weight is woven into the fabric of the movie and its characters so organically by PTA that the songs can just stay in the background. Yorke's songs are heady, expansive and awash with electronics as always as he continues to toy with its texture and rhythms. Despite all the dystopian gloom, he still manages to find moments of beauty and calm in the eye of his socio-political anxieties. All this coheres into something of a signature Yorke record you can dance to and get lost in. Of course, the album is never Radiohead good — except ‘Dawn Chorus’, which makes even your soul dance.

But where Yorke continues to evolve and shine is in the ability to express his ideas though movement, using dance as a narrative tool. In the music videos for Radiohead's 'Lotus Flower' and Atoms For Peace's 'Ingenue', he already showed us he has moves. Now, he is upping his game from the usual limb-flailing to more coordinated abstract performances of contemporary dance.

Choreographed by Damien Jalet, Anima’s setups lay more emphasis on ensemble work but without suppressing Yorke's individuality. They use familiar movements (like sleeping on transit), dissect them and pave the way to new interpretations of human motion. There's a relentless kineticism to the film's conceptual routines. And the dancers perform in perfect unison, traversing the entirety of the physical space to explore the emotional landscape of the human condition.

There are plenty of striking images, notably in this mesmerising duet between Yorke and Roncione — which honestly felt a little too short. They possess a conversational rhythm, full of communicative gestures that not only illuminate each other but further enhance the winning combination of PTA's visuals with Yorke’s music.

More stills from Anima. Netflix

More stills from Anima. Netflix

Anima makes for an effective companion piece to the album and offers plenty of delightful Thom Yorke gifs; But are we happy with just a short film?

Can Radiohead, PTA and Netflix join forces for a sci-fi feature film or web-series already? It’s time to start a petition.

Anima is currently streaming on Netflix.

Updated Date: Jul 07, 2019 11:52:22 IST