Is The Man Who is Tall Happy?

Is The Man Who is Tall Happy

  • Noam Chomsky is a wickedly intelligent individual, and Director Michel Gondry is borderline visionary, capable of imagining outstanding images for prosaic concepts, something he’s shown time and again, perhaps most especially in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Science of Sleep (2006). So it is that I had a certain anticipation for this animated documentary; what thoughts would Chomsky espouse, and what hand-drawn images would Gondry use to showcase them?
  • On that front, Is The Man Who is Tall Happy? doesn’t disappoint. Chomsky gives us ample philosophy, linguistic analysis and history of science to consider, while Gondry’s imaginative animation is never less than startling.
  • Furthermore, the director makes an inspired decision to recycle images every time he and Chomsky reconsider previous topics. In so doing, he helps the viewer track Chomsky’s complex thought processes.
  • Ditto that for the fact that we frequently see Noam Chomsky’s face, often in small insert screens as animation continues around him. Because we can reference the speaker’s face, we better understand his words.
  • Yet, the conversation wanes at times, in no small part because many of Gondry’s transitions prove awkward. At one point, Chomsky offers an intelligent critique of the French government. Rather than exploring it, Gondry redirects his interviewee, awkwardly forcing him to discuss his deceased wife instead. Transitions like this one make it difficult to immerse in the professor’s arguments, if only because they are often cut unnaturally short.
  • Similarly, too many topics are repeated. For example, we hear Chomsky discuss the advent of modern science so many times that we believe either he, the director, or both have lost focus, have forgotten what topics they’ve already discussed. It causes us to withdraw, if only a little, from their critical thinking.
  • Finally, Is The Man Who is Tall? lacks a central theme. Many ideas are hinted at: 1. The difficulty of innovation in the face of tradition; 2. The artist’s journey; 3. The meaning of life, love and happiness; 4. And many more. But none of these ideas is used to tie together the project. In this way, we cannot be certain as to the movie’s central purpose. At its core, what is this film about?
  • Perhaps for that reason alone, I didn’t particularly enjoy Is The Man Who is Tall Happy? Despite its intellectual and artistic merits, my attention drifted. Maybe I wanted to find more meaning in it.
  • Still, Noam Chomsky’s thoughts are interesting, and Gondry’s animation is remarkable, which means Is The Man Who is Tall Happy? is far from a failure. It’s not great, but it is above average.
  • Final Grade: C+ 
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7 thoughts on “Is The Man Who is Tall Happy?

  1. I just heard about this like a day ago, I thought the title was interesting. Bummer about the lacks a central theme though. I might give it a rent at some point though, nice one James!

  2. This is a shame but I feel like it’s the kind of film I’ll throw on anyway. It seems like something to half-watch in the afternoon rather than a film to focus all your attention on from your review; would you agree?

    • You probably could do that. Means you won’t understand Chomsky’s arguments as well, since you won’t be listening as closely, but if you don’t care about such things . . .

      • True – hopefully the arguments will be intriguing enough to catch my attention? From the sound of your review, that may not be the case though.

      • They are. At least they were for me. The first time I heard them.

        It’s in when Gondry and/or Chomsky repeated themselves that my attention started to wane.

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