AKA Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?: An Animated Conversation with Noam Chomsky.
I’m a big fan of director Michel Gondry. His imagination and visual style may not always lead to perfect results, but his work is always interesting. In this documentary he chats away to Noam Chomsky, the celebrated philosopher/linguist/logician/cognitive scientist/activist/much more besides. That’s the main aim of the whole thing. A conversation with a great thinker.
On top of that conversation, Gondry layers his animation. He either illustrates points being made in the conversation or tries to visualise various moments between himself and Chomsky. Strangely, it’s the visuals that elevate this conversation piece. As loathe as I am to admit it, there are times when Chomsky seems to go around in circles and the talk gets a bit . . . . . . . dull. Hey, I’m sorry, I’m a fan of his progressive thinking, but there are times when it becomes a bit tiresome listening to someone display how smart they are. He’s being prompted, of course, so I’m not saying that he’s acting like an unprompted braggart. Unfortunately, at times, the end result can feel the same.
Thankfully, the movie isn’t just about the ideas that Gondry wants to discuss with Chomsky. It’s also, at heart, about language and how to translate ideas into shared imagery. This is where the film is lifted up, with Gondry not only using his animation in a clever, and often self-effacing manner, but also using the art that he’s created to then clear up any miscommunications and move the conversation further along the right path. The whole thing becomes, at that point, as literally self-referential as you can get, and also much more interesting, thanks to Chomsky being able to provide immediate feedback on both the animation and the ideas.
Overall, and perhaps surprisingly, the movie ends up being more about Gondry than Chomsky. It’s not that the latter is ever sidelined. He is, in fact, treated with the great respect that Gondry obviously has for him. It’s just that the format allows both men to play to their strengths.
Covering aspects of Chomsky’s life, language development and interpretation, and the development of various scientific disciplines over the years, this is highly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in philosophy, language or cognitive science, funnily enough. Rather than just a conversation with a great thinker, however, it becomes a conversation between two great thinkers, both expressing themselves in different ways.
The end result may not be as fascinating as I’d hoped, but there’s plenty of food for thought. As well as some energetic animation.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: MICHEL GONDRY
STARS: MICHEL GONDRY, NOAM CHOMSKY
RUNTIME: 88 MINS APPROX