I doubt many of you have heard about this movie. Hell, I hadn’t until I noticed that this month’s DVD release schedule was looking a bit sparse. Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? is a film about director Michel Gondry (probably best known for directing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) sitting down for a conversation with Noam Chomsky, renowned linguist and philosopher. Gondry then hand-drew some animation to put over the conversation to provide some visual flair to what would otherwise just be footage of two men sitting in a room. And really, that’s about it.
Writing about this film is turning out to be incredibly challenging, for I feel like the film is designed for a very niche audience of those interested in philosophy. I’m pretty decently versed in philosophical concepts, as philosophy was my minor in college, but I wasn’t terribly familiar with Chomsky’s work or musings. I found the film to be a pretty good primer on what he’s all about, though I’m sure I’d have gotten more out of it if I had done a bit of research on Chomsky before watching it. Regardless, the conversation ranges from being autobiographical, to delving into the meanings of words in relation to our understanding of reality, to the understandable irrationality of faith, as well as various other reflections. Gondry sometimes interjects with a narration that helps to break down some of the headier concepts, which is appreciated if this is to be taken as an introduction to Chomsky’s work.
However, I felt that Gondry, strangely enough, was the part of the film that most hurt its quality. Gondry’s interjections, while sometimes helpful, are most often used to demonstrate that he is not on equal intellectual footing with Chomsky, basically letting the audience know that he may look like an idiot over the course of the talk, but that’s only because Chomsky is so smart. The thing is, that’s just a way for Gondry to save his ego from being hurt and is completely unnecessary. Chomsky wouldn’t have the reputation he has if he didn’t exhibit an intense amount of intelligence; it’s just that obvious. We don’t need Gondry constantly reverting attention back to himself, because he’s not the point of the film. It seems bizarre that the director of such a simple premise could mess it up in favor of his own egotism, but there it is.
As for the animation itself, I really can’t say much for it. Gondry seems to have done most of the animation himself, which is why the film took three years to produce after the original interviews. The drawings are crude and the animation methods and looping aren’t at all disguised. I don’t really see a purpose to these drawings except, at best, to give us something to look at for what could otherwise be a podcast, and at worst, to give Gondry an excuse to show the world his doodles. At the end of the day, they don’t really affect the experience one way or the other.
So, do I recommend Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? Well, I think the review speaks for itself. This is obviously not a film for everyone, and it is definitely not something meant for casual viewing. If you have an interest in philosophy and linguistics and don’t mind a somewhat *cough* pretentious director, then you may find something here you can enjoy. If you’re anyone else, well, this is one you can pass up. Personally, I liked what I saw and don’t regret watching it, but it didn’t inspire me to admire Chomsky as much as I think Gondry would have liked. But I got eighty minutes of mental exercise, and that’s about all I can ask for.
Do you have any opinions on Noam Chomsky? How about strange documentaries or interview pieces? Or is this the type of film I should never review again because none of you could care less? Leave a comment below!