Twee Noodling 

Michel Gondry vs. Noam Chomsky

IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY? Only Dikembe Mutombo knows for sure.

IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY? Only Dikembe Mutombo knows for sure.

MICHEL GONDRY is concerned about how documentary filmmakers use selective editing to manipulate audiences' perceptions of reality. (Of course he is. He's Michel Gondry. He's like the French-iest guy.) And so Gondry decided to present his new film about renowned linguist Noam Chomsky as an animation, so the audience will never forget they're watching a film.

They definitely won't forget—but they might find themselves faintly queasy after 90 minutes of jittery, wobbly pen-drawn animations, only occasionally interposed with actual footage of Chomsky and Gondry in conversation. The effect is frustrating: Some of Gondry's illustrations help to elucidate Chomsky's ideas, while others just look like twee noodling on top of serious concepts.

The film's audio is mostly drawn from interviews that Gondry conducted with Chomsky, and the subject matter is by turns high-minded and personal; they discuss Chomsky's childhood and education, his worldview (spoiler: bleak), the Holocaust, and the evolution of scientific thinking over the past several hundred years. Meanwhile, Gondry's drawings waver and morph, trees growing into neural pathways, trains hurtling through cities, a snake slithering into a library and devouring classic texts. It all makes sense, kinda.

Gondry inserts himself into the film, too—explaining why he's chosen to include questions that make him look blundering or foolish, and noting that, though the animation process is taking years, he's determined to finish before Chomsky dies. (Congrats!) This, once again, reminds the viewer that they are watching something that was constructed with human hands, based on a conversation between two people. Accordingly, while the film's high-concept material is interesting, it's less abstruse moments that are the most powerful.

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