The latest buzzy release on Netflix is far from the usual Adam Sandler comedy or true crime documentary. This weekend’s autoplay title is instead a 15-minute collaboration between director Paul Thomas Anderson and musician Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Anima is a hypnotic non-narrative mixtape where choreography reigns.
Anima is not Netflix’s first foray into short film streaming. Though the bulk of its offerings are feature films and television series, some pockets of short films exist if you know where to look. The most notable of these shorts are the duo by Don Hertzfeldt, World of Tomorrow and World of Tomorrow Episode 2. Those are both paradigms of the form and show that comprehensive world creation doesn’t live exclusively in lengthy stories.
Though Netflix, and presumably Anderson, refer to Anima as a “one-reeler,” it could just as easily be called a “music video” or “short film.” Neither of those terms are as sexy or hipster as referencing a hypothetical reel of film, so we’ll let them get away with the fantasy categorization as a way to entice new viewers.
Transitioning along a very loose story, the shorts’ structure is draped around a man chasing a woman. As Yorke comes to on a train, amongst a crowd of other passengers, he spots the only other person gaining consciousness at that time. The woman, played by Dajana Roncione, soon blends into the crowd as they all exit the train in unison. Yorke’s struggle to find her, and return her lunch tin, is the source of momentum within the short running time.
To focus on the story, however, would be to miss the point. The piece is all about feeling, contrast, and above all motion. When it begins, all of the performers are involved in an elaborate and sleepy routine. Their heads hang heavy in their hands as they have a fitful sleep while commuting. When we find these same people later trying to climb up a stark white floor at a steep incline, it looks as though their struggles have not evaporated after their time on the train.
Visually, the contrasts compliment the turmoil of the movement and the music. The dancers’ black jumpsuits stand out against their changing surroundings. The elongated shadows as they fight their way to crawl reflect their increasing frustration and the futility of their struggle.
If all of this interpretation sounds pretentious, that’s with good cause. Anima reads like a lyric poem that begs for introspection and interpretation. It engages with the viewer on multiple levels as it asks you to lean forward and listen closer. These kinds of thought exercises don’t need to be inaccessible, and Anima shows how simple presentation of complex ideas can be a fun way to digest some new music.