Michel Gondry's Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?: An Animated Conversation With Noam Chomsky constitutes a cinematic attempt to bridge left- and right-brained modes of film language into something transcendent, an onscreen syntax greater than the sum of its parts. On the soundtrack, we get the dry, analytical, heady musings of Chomsky, avuncular but controversial professor, philosopher, linguist, and political protestor. Much of the discourse alternates between biographical reflections and Chomsky’s complex, divisive philosophies about human cognizance and how we learn to interpret the world around us. Gondry pairs this with his own 85-minute series of aesthetic depictions of Chomsky's conclusions -- the preponderance of them done with hand-drawn animations. It's an instinctive choice on Gondry's part (and, as we know from his prior films, an extension of his own id) to push these visuals into the realm of the highly abstract, connotative, and symbolic.
The results are strange, beguiling, and unsettling. Many viewers will find themselves rapt by Chomsky's words, for he is as consistently mesmerizing to listen to as his reputation suggests. But -- at least during an initial viewing -- it's virtually impossible to take in the full meaning of what Chomsky is articulating and consciously sift through (or interpret) Gondry's multilayered images at the same time. As a result, the experience is an emotionally and neurologically exhausting one; you walk away from the movie not exhilarated, but totally worn out and ready for external stimuli of almost childlike simplicity.
This is a fascinating and admirable film for what it attempts on a formalist level, but you sit watching it and wonder if Gondry's additions weren't something of a miscalculation. The picture comes off as dictatorial and presumptuous in the sense that the filmmaker is holding our imaginative capacities hostage. As arresting as the movie is, Gondry doesn't seem to understand the meaning of the word "restraint." It might have been even better if he had trusted the audience more, reducing the visual element to a series of haunting singular images with multiplicative connotations -- as Quebecois director Francois Delisle did with his ingenious Le meteore. Or perhaps Gondry should have freed the film from the visual plane altogether, relying exclusively on the complexities of the narration as Derek Jarman did with his 1993 Blue. Either one would have liberated our subconscious minds, enabling us to build an internal mental carnival from Chomsky's words sans the degree of assistance employed here. One thing is readily apparent, though: The combination of hallucinatory, trippy visuals and cerebral soundtrack dissertation could make this the ultimate head movie; marijuana-induced academics with a love of introspection will be in heaven while watching it.
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- Released: 2013
- Rating: NR
- Review: Michel Gondry's Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?: An Animated Conversation With Noam Chomsky constitutes a cinematic attempt to bridge left- and right-brained modes of film language into something transcendent, an onscreen syntax greater than the sum of its p… (more)