Friday, November 20, 2015

It's Zoo-Sized!

Sunday, Steph and I had a double-feature of a WashU student production of Molière's The Misanthrope, or the Cantankerous Lover and Anomalisa from Charlie Kaufman.  They fit really snugly together as portraits of how men can turn into miserable bastards, by two nearly opposite routes.    

Alceste is the protagonist-fool of The Misanthrope, a man who holds his friends and enemies up to absurd, Platonic standards, and castigates anyone who disappoints him, which is everyone.  He impotently rages against the imperfections in society with nearly identical speeches to ones I made in college.  Steph was often the audience for these screeds and thought it was pretty funny that Moliere captured that nearly 400 years ago.  In an essay, Rousseau wrote about how good the play was even if the audience should agree with Alceste.  This is a lovely bit of art criticism, in my humble opinion.

Michael Stone, the main character of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's stop-motion dark comedy, Anomalisa (read Scott's excellent review right now please and thank you) self-medicates his way through a boring, predictable life where everyone might as well be the same person, as far as he is concerned.  He certainly doesn't treat anyone from cabbie to wife to waitress with an ounce of warmth, until he has a breakdown and meets a woman he sees with fresh eyes, Lisa.  He is genuinely dazzled by her (while under the influence of several martinis and some prescription drugs) but in the cold light of morning, he sees flaws and commonalities in her that transform her into just another clone human.  When it is finally time for Michael to give the presentation, Kaufman reveals how he became this man apart.

Michael teaches customer service representatives how to be better at their job, which mostly involves improved ways to sell your kindness to earn your corporation an extra buck.  He advocates treating all people the same, as if they were your friend, and says smiling costs you nothing.  By treating each human with the exact same hollow kindness, he has descended into a hell where each person is just an interaction to be tolerated until finished.  Neither he or Alceste give a whit for the dynamic range of human variation and their lack of curiosity damns them to lose friends and influence no one, except as a cautionary tale.  

Both pieces were terrifically funny satires of angry men and I, prone as I am to apoplectic tirades*, sure need the reminder.  Be cool, my babies.

*sounds like an oxymoronic phrase, but these are my patented rants that start off with speechless indignation before rapidly accelerating belly-aching, like you started a car in fifth gear going downhill