The uncanny valley refers to a point that is reached by robots that imitate human form (Tinwell, 2014). The increasing resemblance produces empathy and familiarity, but as the robots become more humanlike, the imitation begins to be unreal and this results in a loss of empathy (Plamper, 2015). This can be seen in how animation works: through the exaggeration of certain features, Pixar films elicit sympathy from the audience even though many of the characters are not fully human-like. The author of the concept, roboticist Masahiro Mori suggested that engineers should avoid this when creating robots. However, what if placing the audience in the uncanny valley was what the filmmakers wanted?
Anomalisa (2015) Trailer
Anomalisa (2015) is a film by Charlie Kaufman exploring a man experiencing a situation where everyone looks and sounds the same, except for one person he meets overnight in a hotel. The film takes the uncanny valley, in that by making the animated people as lifelike as possible while still ensuring that we know they are animated figures, we experience the same level of strangeness and dislocation as the main character. This is emphasised by the mundaneness of the experiences portrayed: simply checking into a hotel and making awkward conversation with the bellboy is shown in real time, showing how experiences that are meant to make us welcomed result in further alienation. This challenges our ability to experience empathy with any of the characters, and we feel almost as though the individuals are too real and yearn for the more comfortable caricatures of Disney. Animation is now at a point where, at least for some people, the uncanny valley can be easily experienced, and this could represent a further point through which cinema is developed or at least challenged by new art forms (Friedberg, 2000). Mori assumed that the disconcertion resulting from the uncanny valley was a negative point, but Anomalisa (2015) uses it significant effect: it allows us to explore what it is that makes us human.
– Ziyi Wang
- Friedberg, A. (2000). The end of cinema: multimedia and technological change. Available at: http://academic.uprm.edu/mleonard/theorydocs/readings/friedberg.pdf [Accessed 24th March, 2017].
- Plamper, J. (2015). The History of Emotions: An Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Tinwell, A. (2014). The Uncanny Valley in Games and Animation, New York: CRC Press.