Savina Petkova on Paul Thomas Anderson and Thom Yorke’s ‘Anima’ (2019)
“What happened to your dreams?”, asks a lonely tube poster as our protagonist (taciturn Thom Yorke) rushes after an unknown (is she?) woman (his real-life significant other, Dajana Roncione), carrying her (lost?) bag as the only token of her presence. The correlation between dreams and reality characterises Anima, the Netflix creation from acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson, a finespun masterpiece in short form. Its simple idea, that of finding love and the meeting of souls, is thematically woven into loose narrative, tense choreography, and the gradual relaxation of bodies, beats, and glances, catalysing a paean of togetherness.
The film opens to a classic phantom ride shot in a train tunnel, as a steady electronic tick introduces a sleek background melody. Cut to the inside of a tube carriage: motion is felt and seen in the passenger bodies, as they sway in a swooning state, while lethargy reigns – with their eyes closed, it seems, all the people are dreaming on this ride. Eyelids flutter, necks rotating, bodies are immobile and sitting still. Hesitantly peeking, Yorke meets the glance of a beautiful woman, who then harshly disappears. Stiff as sleepwalkers, the passengers drag themselves through the tunnel with limbs wandering rhythmically to an airy high-pitched beat. Slowly moving with the crowd, the camera doesn’t allow too many long takes, rather it emphasises the repetition of unison walking, paralleling everyone’s gait with the musical throb, cutting swiftly and framing feet and arms, often headless bodies.
In Anima, gravity works in a quirky way — while their toes are always glued to the ground, bodies move suspended in mid-air, or leaning forward to a surprising angle, exaggerated torso movements render even floor work ephemeral. Resurging back into gravitational axis, the dancers’ grounded tensions transform into floating, almost bewitched limbs. The dancers share corresponding moves amongst them, but not in synchronicity. Their rhythm remains out of joint, yet just a notch, enough to stress the creative potential in such dissonance – a crowd with defined individuals. Anderson’s camera latched onto the bodies’ transient gravity as the bird eye view switches to low angle, from above, below, and front: the idea of togetherness is played out by intertwining shadows and repetitive choreography moves. Shown from all sides, the body is reduced to a set of movements: the flick of the shoulders, the thrust of the loosened elbows, a march-like advance of knelt-down figures that all shove their fists at the floor – quasi-ritualistic, yet it explicates the corporal rhythm that matches the glitchy musical tune.
In its midpoint, the film finds Yorke peeking over what seems a horizon, as a scarcity of mise-en-scene defines the centrepiece of this one-reeler. A black horizontal line pierces through white on white, delineating such simplicity and dreaminess, that any suprematism artist would be proud. Our horizon is revealed to be a slope that is a signature piece constructed for choreographer Damien Jalet (who collaborated with Yorke on Suspiria). “Skid” is a performance that unfolds over a 34 degrees inclined platform (imitating Earth’s gravitational acceleration), upon which dancers appear and vanish, sliding from existence into absence. The ramp takes many forms in its short screen time: a chessboard, a spot to meet someone, a spot to miss someone; a battlefield; a playground; or just a tabula rasa with all imprints welcome. Cinematography turns “Skid” into a spectacle of human will and physical presence over a fleeting present. Shot from above, the dancers diffuse into shadows which interact more than their bodies manage to before falling. The feverish convulsions and the accelerated gestures make up a finite image of the human being that nevertheless flutters its wings, dramatic cuts and juxtaposed cameras (left, right, above, below) conjure visual contractions as our protagonist is the only inertia, the only one truly interacting with others.
After Yorke falls down the slope, his face is framed in a close-up, as he awakens (or falls asleep?, who knows by now?), upon a filthy ditch, cluttered with leaves and paper trash. His body then, surges back smoothly, postured, as the frenzied beat has mellowed and Yorke’s own low-key, yet delicious high vocal resonates through the resurrection sequence. The meeting between lovers is portrayed as a culmination of longing, the shots zooming into the shrinking distance between their bodies. As the couple don’t touch, tactility is readily apparent in their locked, shared gaze, until they break into halves again, leaning on the wall next to each other, to twirl around one another in turn — a brushing circular motion that is half a caress, since it touches only half of the body, as well as a vertical allusion to sexual foreplay.
By speaking in repetitive visual and choreographic syntax, Anima focuses on the process of coming together, the succession of moments and their bodily dimensions, as atoms coming into contact with other atoms to form a molecule. Without the comfort of a narrative, the film moves along two axes: one is from solitude towards togetherness, and the other from hardness to lightness. Or, in other words, the course (traversed, physical path, rather than dis-course) of falling in love, exemplified by the corporeal disposition of crawling and twirling. An ingenious encounter between lovers, Anima couples Thom Yorke and Dajana Roncion in an utterly intimate way: speaking of the soul (the Latin translation being “anima”), the film captures an ineffable essence that does not bow down to rationality, and has been sought out by theologians and lovelorn youngsters alike – the unity of body and soul, rephrasing it with Yorke’s otherworldly music, which is nothing short of sonar salvation. Together with director Paul Thomas Anderson, they have conjured a dream-state for learning the mechanics of one’s body or the other’s body, summing up the bio-mechanical enchantment of human meets human.
Streaming on Netflix now