Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?

Directed by Michel Gondry

Starring Michel Gondry and Noam Chomsky

A series of interviews featuring linguist, philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky done in hand-drawn animation.

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  • ★★★★ review by sprizzle on Letterboxd

    Michel Gondry is an artist. He sees things different than most people, you can see this in any number of his shorts or films. He thinks outside the box and comes up with stuff that evokes a child like response. I think the most evident thing that comes from this animated conversation is that Noam Chomsky is also an artist.

    I love the laziness of this interview. Gondry (at least from the final piece's perspective) sits down with Chomsky and asks him whatever comes to mind. It seems very natural and is accompanied by some splendid little animations. Chomsky mostly takes on philosophical and existential questions but avoids getting too technical.

    What's also evident in this film is Chomsky's love for his experiences as a person. He recites memories from early as one year old, all with a fondness that will make you jealous of this man's exuberance for life. It all really ends up being quite calming and inspiring. We don't have all the answers, obviously, but Chomsky and Gondry show us it's fun to think about.

  • ★★★★ review by William Tell on Letterboxd

    The effort one has to put forth in order to comprehend Noam Chomsky’s philosophical linguistics is easily counterbalanced by Michel Gondry’s wonderfully ingenious drawings. Simple, but never simplistic, and revelatory visual cues are spread on the screen with bright neon colors, developing original and intuitive ways to illustrate the ideas behind Chomsky’s ramblings about a multiplicity of subjects, from language, to human continuity, to nature and perception and human evolution. Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? is quite an inspiring and thought-provoking documentary more about philosophy and linguistic theories than about Chomsky himself, and it’s all the better for it. Focusing on Chomsky’s politics or social life would’ve felt way too much of a compromise, and the film is quite more personal and enjoyable without that approach.

    Gondry brilliantly keeps his audience invested in the awe-inspiring and challenging topics the two personalities discuss, however, the film is quite poorly edited, from a chronological point-of-view, but equally from a logical and continuous perspective. This one aspect could be immensely bettered, and if that were to happen, Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? would simply be one of the most brilliant and original documentaries of the last couple years.

    | Direction: 8,0                               | Sound: 8,0

    | Screenplay: 8,5                           | Editing: 4,0

    | Acting: -                                          | Entertainment: 9,0

    | Visuals: 9,0                                   | Overall Rating: 7,9

  • ★★★★ review by Keith Uhlich on Letterboxd

    Bolex-loving gearhead meets intimidatingly soft-spoken philosoph—a Waking Life I can get behind.

  • ★★★★ review by Jens Aksel Takle on Letterboxd

    Noam Chomsky, a man who handles the task of multitasking, with the fact of being highly regarded as the father of modern linguistics, and at the same time the greatest political intellectual of our time. And its here the dilemma comes when you decides to make a documentary about him. "Should I interview Chomsky the linguist or Chomsky the activist?" Because these two fields are equally part of his identity. His legacy will be in both of these fields.

    Director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) decided to make an interview with Chomsky before Chomsky leaves this earth. But this is not an ordinary biographical interview film. Its audio is of the interview itself, but the images are animated. Animated representation of Gondry and Chomsky talking and animations of Chomsky’s own life and his theories. The interview itself focuses mainly on Chomsky’s upbringing and his linguistic theories.

    The animation is simple hand drawn stop motion, made with passion. The process of making the film itself are drawn in to the story, and at some point Gondry is showing a draft to Chomsky in order to clarify one of his statements in which Chomsky brutally pulverized Gondry's statement, as he does from time to time in a strict intellectual way.

    I specially love the way Chomsky’s theories are being animated, and that Chomsky is able to incorporate himself and his upbringing into it, like when Chomsky tells about his earliest memory and then connects it to his theory about development of language in early age.

    Yes, this is an intellectual film. Even though the animation really helps explain some of the theories, some of them are too hard to understand, which in my case only increases the curiosity around his work. For myself I only know Chomsky primarily for his political activism, and since this seems to be a film that tells the essential story about Chomsky, I’m kind of surprised that there wasn’t much about that in the interview.

    And when Chomsky did talk about politics, it seems like Gondry derailed the conversation when Chomsky started to talk about President Nicolas Sarkozy's deportation of thousands of Romani people from France. It ends with Gondry telling Chomsky to talk about something more cheerful instead. Is Gondry one of those French people who finds it too sensitive to criticize his own country’s politics, which France unfortunately has a long history of?

    Overall: I thought this was a great animated interview that covered most of Chomsky’s basic linguistic theories, as well as Chomsky’s own life, though I wish there were more politics involved. Otherwise this is truly a great representation of Professor Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is love, Chomsky is life.

  • ★★★★ review by Jordan Brooks on Letterboxd

    A wonderfully, yet simply animated conversation between visionary director Michel Gondry and philosophical heavyweight Noam Chomsky. A labor of love, Gondry would interview Chomsky, then painstakingly animate the the conversation over the span of a few years, then return to Chomsky for approval, and spark up further discussion. Choosing to illustrate, as to allow his audience to form their own opinions on Chomsky's ideas, Gondry is careful not to spoon feed or force upon his audience any philosophy. Gondry introduces many of the conversations, and he does with the beginning of the film, with insertions of his own thoughts and frustrations overcoming a language barrier and grappling with the challenging and abstract concepts. Indeed, Gondry seems to be the main target of his own film, and the only person he is concerned with convincing. Whether you agree with, or even understand, Chomsky's ideas or outright oppose them, Gondry's surreal and pulsing animations, coupled with stories from Chomsky's life and the inner workings of the human mind, are undoubtedly compelling.

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