‘Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?’ pits Noam Chomsy vs. Michel Gondry

In "Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?," director Michel Gondry fits a chat with Noam Chomsky with hand-drawn animation. Credit: Sundance Selects
In “Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?,” director Michel Gondry fits a chat with Noam Chomsky with hand-drawn animation.
Credit: Sundance Selects

‘Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?’
Director: Michel Gondry
Features: Noam Chomsky, Michel Gondry
Rating: NR
3 (out of 5) Globes

French filmmaker and music video craftsman Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” etc.”) is not the obvious choice to chat with Noam Chomsky. But it’s that outside the box thinking that makes him, at least in this case, ideal. For the least decade, the linguist/philosopher/logician/activist has been known primarily for his political commentary. But he can articulate upon any topic. Gondry, by contrast, is not a man of any strong political stripe, but he is someone who, despite his penchant for whimsy, finds inspiration by challenging himself. “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” found him in another country, making his first documentary. Here he’s talking to someone he openly admits his infinitely his intellectual superior.

Conversationally, “Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?” does not offer a balance between the two stars, but Gondry makes himself known in two key ways: by the specific routes in which he steers the conversations, and through visuals. Gondry is largely interested in Chomsky’s knowledge of science, specifically cognitive science. “Nature is simple and it’s up to the scientist to show that it’s simple,” Chomsky intones, in his usual soft yet guttural drone. “If you find irreducible complexity, you don’t understand it.”

Gondry’s own interest is widespread. He directs Chomsky towards “the mechanism of inspiration,” and how creativity and is tied to language. The director has worked in America for years, but his command of the English language is still wanting. But that can be a good thing, as confusion can lead to genuine invention. In response, Chomsky talks about how true scientific discovery starts with treating the presumed-to-be obvious (say, why objects fall to the ground, in the age of Isaac Newton) with sudden skepticism.

A filmmaker like Gondry would never settle for talking heads, or even speaking over dinner or walking around, as in other chat-a-thons like “My Dinner With Andre,” “Mindwalk” and the series that began with “Before Sunrise.” He doodles on the screen, in animations hand-drawn on paper and filmed, old school, one frame at a time. Sometimes the images illustrate or simplify what’s being said; other times they’re mere stream-of-consciousness eye candy. By design they’re not there to overwhelm what’s being said — and they don’t. They’re there largely to be charming and to ensure we’re stimulated visually as well as intellectually.

Perhaps inevitably, Gondry tries to humanize Chomsky by asking him personal questions that no one would think to ask a man of his stature. His first question is in the film is “What is your first memory?” Later he tries, and fails, to get Chomsky to talk about his late wife, but does get him to talk about what makes him happy at 83, which tends to be much more adorably mundane than you’d expect from Noam Chomsky. The man himself remains elusive, but he’s just open enough that he remains appropriately mysterious.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

NHL

Rangers' speed versus Flyers' size makes interesting playoff…

Among the myriad aspects that will make this Metropolitan Division semifinal series fascinating will be the battle between the Rangers' speed and the Flyers' size,…

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.