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Say what you want about streaming services. However, they can’t be all bad if they can release projects like Anima to mass audiences – works from bona fide geniuses which don’t fit neatly into a standard medium.
A blend of ballet, film and music, the 15-minute ‘one-reeler’ is streaming on Netflix now. A showcase of tracks from Thom Yorke of Radiohead’s solo record of the same name, the musician recruited his band’s favourite director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) to helm the short.
Anderson previously worked behind the camera on the video for Radiohead single ‘Daydreaming’. Also the band’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood is the filmmaker’s composer of choice, working on all his projects since 2007. Perhaps this history is why one gets a sense watching Anima that Anderson truly has a grip on what makes Yorke’s music so special. Yes, his brand of rock and electronica can be depressing, exploring feelings of alienation and misanthropy in the modern world. However, on many of his songs including ‘No Surprises’ or his band’s last LP A Moon Shaped Pool there’s an undeniable beauty too as these tracks’ protagonists surrender to the chaos of life.
The method of surrender in this new short is sleep. Anima’s title is derived from Carl Jung’s theories on the collective unconscious and dreams. The short begins with Yorke riding a subway, to the discombobulated bleeps and bloops of ‘Not the News’. He and all his passengers are falling asleep in the same robotic ballet pattern, amazingly captured by Anderson in long one-takes. As the singer gently wails: “Who are these people / I’m in black treacle,” he is broken from the pack by the sight of a female passenger (Yorke’s real-life partner Dajana Roncione).
When she walks off the train without her suitcase, Yorke goes full-on Chaplin. He picks it up and attempts to chase after her. However, he gets blocked by the masses’ collective dance moves – a warped vision of people going about their day – and caught in the station’s turnstyle.
From here, we cut to a strange sparse other location which because of the various people queuing in uniform recalls a factory. To the more funky electronica of ‘Traffic’, Yorke dance fights a group of ominous strangers approaching him on their hands and feet for the suitcase. This is as the floor, they stand on constantly shifts – again captured by Anderson in steady wide-shots. While Radiohead’s ‘Lotus Flower’ promo already showcased the frontman’s slick moves, here Yorke shows even more skill on his feet. This is all the while, he compels as a leading man – with his craggy face and drooping left eyelid always fascinating when captured in close-up.
Yorke finds himself out of the nightmarish place and onto the streets of France. He reconnects with the woman from the train. This is in a sexy, intimate dance in which the two switch positions on the wall they are leaning against – touching noses as they do so. As the slow-building heavenly synths of ‘Dawn Chorus’ rise, the pair swirl and frolick through the nighttime streets, eventually finding themselves on a tram as the sun rises. They embrace in another strange dance, before the short ends with Yorke alone and falling asleep on the train.
Even though it’s implied the entire short has been a dream, the viewer is left with a hopeful feeling at the end of Anima. The short depicts love as the only refuge in an uncaring world, making it feel of a piece with PTA’s other works like Punch Drunk Love, Inherent Vice and even Phantom Thread.
Fans of Yorke, Anderson or even just art, will get more out of Anima than its 15-minute run-time may suggest. The minute the credits roll, you’ll just want to rewind to the beginning.