Anima review: Paul Thomas Anderson's companion piece to Thom Yorke's album is more motion, less poetry
While Anima is a detour from Thomas Yorke's usual aggressive streak, it should have organically been far more poetic under Paul Thomas Anderson's direction.
In the realm of psychoanalysis, 'anima' refers to "the feminine principle as present in the male unconscious" or "the inner personality that is in communication with the unconscious". For former Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, who has made a career out of songs immersed in tension, his new album Anima is befittingly his most soothing work yet.
Paul Thomas Anderson's 15-minute short film/music video of the same name, serves as a companion piece to Yorke's album though it only encompasses three of the nine songs from his LP. The choice of the songs lends well to both Anderson's vision and the tonality of Yorke's album. The dialogue-less film stars Yorke, presumably as himself, and graphs his journey from a distressed ordinary man battling monotony to finally embracing his identity as someone who can persistently rise above his ordinary identity (read: "If you could do it all again").
The first track used in the film, 'No News At All', establishes the humdrum going-ons inside a subway train. Everyone who populates the tube, including Yorke, is seen struggling with sleep probably after or in anticipation of a tiring day at work. Soon, as the beats kick in, the movement of passengers almost 'falling' into sleep gets fast-forwarded. There is pace, there is rhythm, but the mundane air continues to pervade. Anderson then plants a briefcase-like container to kickstart the action and lend Yorke's life a purpose. The singer decides to return the briefcase to its rightful owner but the subway exit does not let him pass through. His repeated failed attempts are probably a reflection of his life where his intended acts of kindness have often been mistaken for indulgences in crime.
Yorke then decides to take a leap above the security checkpoint. As he dives into rebellion, he enters a fantastical world. The second song, 'Traffic', is more steeped into this fantastical world as a white landscape becomes Yorke's trudging ground. Anderson takes full liberty of the world he creates and completely changes the rules of his narrative. In a sequence that is best explained when watched, the horizontal becomes the vertical, and people (Swedish GöteborgsOperans dance company) keep falling on Yorke, preventing him from getting hold of the briefcase and thus, reclaiming his intended act of kindness.
The final song, 'Dawn Chorus', assumes a completely different tone and the dominant emotion switches from bewilderment to tranquillity. As Yorke recovers from having lost his consciousness to a whirlwind, he wakes up to meet Italian actress Dajana Roncione, who also happens to be his girlfriend in 'real' life. He shares a brief moment with her in the subway train during the first sequence, which possibly reflects his intention to activate the 'anima' within. But in the final sequence, the two freely engage in a mechanical-looking ballet. Their movements progressively become smoother, and serve as a redeeming factor to the distorted, exhausted drill of the people who surround them. While the background movements transport one back to Luca Guadagnino's 2018 horror film Suspiria (PS: same choreographer), the foreground of Yorke and Roncione engaging in a therapeutic exchange acts as a soothing balm to the wounds of those controlled by the cosmic power of routine.
As his 'anima' rests him on a seat inside a tram, Yorke is seen finally embracing sleep in the final shot. The daylight flashes on his face but his struggle to resist sleep soon gives in way to a deep slumber, indicating that after living a life full of turbulence (as often reflected by Radiohead's music), Yorke has finally come to terms with his more placid self at this stage of his life. His new album Anima (also composed by Nigel Godrich) encapsulates the laid-back state of his mind. While the music may not satisfy the Radiohead die-hards, it may give them a liberating sense of slowing down.
Anderson helps Yorke paint his current state of mind but Anima is undoubtedly not one of his strongest directorial works. Damien Jalet's choreography comes as a much-less-aggressive change from Suspiria, and is deliberately kept raw and formless. Darius Khondrij's cinematography seems to complement Anderson's vision though it is a detour from his usual poetic narrative style. Tarik Barri's visual effects do more for the fantastical theme of the music video than the camera work that relies mostly on the choreography and the inherent beauty of the picturesque Prague. Editor Andy Jurgensen performs the classic job of cutting on beats commendably. Costume designer Johanna Garrad uses overcoats in dark solid colours — brown, black and blue — as the 'uniform', thus maintaining the designed monotony that runs across the video.
Overall, it is commendable for Yorke and his Suspiria collaborator Jalet to set into motion a world that cuts across the mundane and the turbulent to reach a peaceful resolution, given the recurrent tension inherent in their previous works. But since the project was helmed by Anderson, one could only hope for more poetry, for more synchronised disorder. How about another collaboration between Anderson and his Phantom Thread composer Jonny Greenwood instead? He is the Radiohead we got our money on.
Anima is currently streaming on Netflix.
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