Nostalgia, Nightmare, and Never-Ending Netflix: A review of Anima

If you were to sit down and watch all of Netflix’s content, it would take you around 36,000 hours. That’s just over four years. So the length of a Classics degree (if you were after an Oxford-equivalent statistic ). It’s something I’ve given a fair amount of thought to lately since we’ve been in lockdown for around 12 weeks, and watching TV series and films at home has replaced evening trips to the pub, or nights out clubbing. And much as I miss these things (yes, really, it’s possible to miss the velvet walls of Fever) I must admit I’ve relished having the space to process recent events and catch up on the nothing-dream-time, and the movies, that wouldn’t have fit into a regular term. 

But the thing about Netflix is that it can be a bit of a vortex. While there is plenty of excellent material there – works of artistic or political importance, even – they are nestled alongside hundreds of – well, what’s the opposite of a ‘hidden gem’? For me, it can become a trap in which I retreat to the same shows every time. It’s hard to make discerning choices, to go for that ‘cerebral, gritty, social-issue drama’ (ever wondered who writes Netflix’s three-word descriptions?) you’ve heard so much about when it would be so much easier to just to re-watch Friends. More often than not, I’m not even sure what I’m looking for.

Which brings me to Thom Yorke and Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Anima’, which I came upon late one night, scrolling aimlessly, and seemingly inured to every option. ‘Anima’ is a short film, a ‘one-reeler,’ made to accompany Radiohead’s album of the same name. It’s something truly original – an invitation to a dreamlike space far away from, yet accidentally and rather brilliantly in touch with, this particular moment.  

It begins with a queasy trajectory through a train tunnel, lights flickering overhead. Then we’re in the crowded train carriage itself, and people in Soviet-grey, perfectly-uniform clothing begin to jerk in eerie, somnambulic unison. Thom Yorke’s “Not the News,” starts up – cue sliding violins. We follow one of the figures, played by Yorke himself, as he tries to make his way out of a nightmarish underground station. Everything seems designed to test him – in one painfully frustrating sequence, he tries to walk through ticket barriers which admit everyone but himself. The action shifts from the cavernous underground chambers to the dim streets of Prague, where shadows creep taller than bodies, sandstone staircases cut and re-mold the landscape, and gravity plays impossible Escher mind-games. The dancing bodies (are they hypnotised? sleepwalking?) seem half oblivious, half antagonistic to Yorke’s presence. It’s Kafka meets Pina Bausch. 

But as ‘Anima’ arrives at its conclusion, some of the atmosphere of paranoia disperses. Yorke and a beautiful dark-haired woman, his real-life partner Dajana Roncione, catch up with each other at last – he’s been trying to find her all this time. In the dark alleyway, they spin around each other, the fractured, feral soundtrack harmonising into something more forgiving. 

By this point, the violins have got to me. It looks like Brasenose Lane, I think, forlornly. I miss living in the city, the endless foolish nights rambling through those streets. I remind myself not to be so sentimental.

But Yorke and Roncione spin faster and closer as the sun comes up and warmer tones infiltrate the film’s stark colour palette. The tense, alien beat of Radiohead’s “Traffic” dissolves into the soft melodic swoon of the next track, “Dawn Chorus”: If you could do it all again / This time with style/ I think I missed something / but I’m not sure what.  

The choreography, tailored to dark, dreamy perfection by Damien Jalet, changes pace again. The couple rest their heads on each other’s shoulders, link arms. This piece was written and produced in 2019 before the words ‘social distancing’ ever began echoing through the media. These strangers brush tentatively around something they have no idea they’ll lose. Public space, shared, overlapping. It’s an artwork that doesn’t know how apocalyptic it is yet. 

‘Anima’ is only fifteen minutes long, but its impact lasts much longer. If you don’t know what to watch, or you’re not sure how you’re feeling, it’s something I can infinitely recommend. You never know how it might shake up your evening, or your dreams. 

‘Anima’, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson with original soundtrack by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, is currently available on Netflix.