Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?

In 2013, French director Michel Gondry, best known for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, released Is The Man Who is Tall Happy? The documentary film features a series of interviews with renowned linguist, philosopher, and political activist, Noam Chomsky. Together, Gondry and Chomsky discuss everything from the history of modern linguistics to Chomsky’s earliest memories, family life, and personal philosophies. Gondry accompanies audio recordings of these fascinating, complex conversations with his own vibrant hand-drawn animations. The result is a charming and visually stunning portrait of Chomsky’s life and work.

Gondry warns the viewer, however, that the film they are watching is not reality, but rather Gondry’s interpretation of the subject: “Film and video are both by their nature manipulative,” he says, “In other words the context becomes more important than the content. And, as a result, the voice that appears to come from the subject is actually coming from the filmmaker.” Throughout the film, Gondry continues to break the fourth wall: he opts for keeping the awkward moments, poor wordings, and misunderstandings, rather than editing them out. Gondry’s tone is often honest to the point of being confessional—in one scene Gondry shamefully admits to the viewer he only cares about Chomsky’s health because he wants him to live to see the finished film.

Apart from Gondry’s asides to the viewer, the majority of the film truly acts as an animated conversation. It takes unexpected twists and turns, as reflected by the constantly shifting stop-motion animation, seamlessly transforming from image to text and back again. The animation also works to clarify Chomsky’s more difficult theories through the use of visual metaphor. As Gondry and Chomsky converse, the audience receives a glimpse inside two very different— but equally innovative— minds.