Every bit as artfully creative and mind-bendingly perplexing as you would expect from the two involved.
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?
Renowned filmmaker Michel Gondry has an animated (I say that both figuratively and literally) conversation with the famous linguist, philosopher, and political activist Noam Chomsky. Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? takes an unorthodox approach by presenting the documentary almost entirely through animations; utilizing Gondry’s artistic imagination and skills. Described in the documentary as “the most important thinker alive”, many would agree that Chomsky’s brainpower is the equivalent to the creative talent Gondry possess. Both of these people are the masters of their craft, so it becomes a magical work of art when these two titans sit down to collaborate.
The documentary wastes no time on introductions as Gondry jumps right on in with picking Noam Chomsky’s brain. Some of the topics of discussion are how infants learn language, growing up in an progressive schooling environment, the idea of inspiration, and many other complex theories of our world. Because Chomsky is a linguistic mastermind, much of the documentary explores the origins and interpretations of our language. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), this conversation about language is between two people who do not even speak the same native dialect, which makes for an intriguing dynamic to witness.
One of the many fascinating anecdotes from Chomsky is on the importance of questioning the obvious things in life. He explains for thousands of years people just accepted that a ball fell to the ground because that was its natural place. It was not until we began to question why objects move that way that we actually learned about concepts like gravity. A compelling argument is made that without questioning what you taught you end up just becoming a copy of someone else’s mind.
Listening to Chomsky speak is much like listening in on a college lecture; incredibly insightful but absolutely crammed with information. So it is a relief when Gondry provides quick asides once in a while to give the viewer a break from the onslaught of information. At one point he deliberately cuts from Chomsky’s tangent to provide a summarization of what Chomsky went on to say—claiming the reason for doing so was because he was not able to come up with creative animations for it—but I do not buy it. A more subtle break is given when Gondry is not able to pronounce a word in his question without the help of a translator (he is French after all), which is something that could have been edited out of the documentary but wisely leaves in and serves as a welcoming disruption.
In fact, one of the best sequences of the documentary is when it suddenly pauses to interrupt itself after Chomsky and Gondry do not see eye-to-eye on a topic. The filmmaker believes his heavy accent and misuse of words muddled the point he was trying to make. So through editing Gondry gives himself a second chance to make his point more clear than it was during the interview. This self-aware effect is both humbling when the filmmaker admits to feeling stupid for the confusion, and at the same time gives the documentary personal charm.
The visual animations are equally as impressive as the actual conversations. Not only do the animations provide visual stimulation and showoff Gondry’s wonderful imagination, but they serve a purpose to illustrate abstract concepts that are being discussed. Furthermore, they act as graphical subtitles for Gondry’s acknowledged heavy accent that is difficult to decipher.
If you ever need to be reminded of your intellectual inferiority, Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? is the perfect watch. The result of the documentary is every bit as artfully creative and mind-bendingly perplexing as you would expect from the two involved. But despite all of that, Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? is not perfect. Often times Chomsky will answer the question he wanted to be asked instead of the answering the question that was actually asked. And even though his thoughts are downright fascinating, he tends to get off-track, making topics more convoluted than they were to begin with. Gondry proves his interview skills are not on par with his artistic abilities when his questions fall flat or disregarded all together. This is a documentary that will exercise your mind as well as your patience, however, you will be rewarded with an unique experience of enlightenment.