Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

"Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?": Michel Gondry on Noam Chomsky? 

Wednesday, Nov 27 2013

How odd: a film about Noam Chomsky by Michel Gondry. And how great: a lucid dream about the basic nature of human communication. Neither a hagiography nor an ad hominem attack, this refreshingly agenda-less movie is self-described as "an animated conversation" for reasons of literal accuracy. It results from Gondry hanging out in Chomsky's MIT office, encouraging the famed linguist to hold forth on the history of science and how language works, then illustrating what he says with hand-drawn animation. Chomsky's got an answer, usually a long answer, for everything — except, tellingly, the question of what makes him happy. He considers that question an indulgence, which seems prudent when it's coming from Gondry, the famed French auteur of digressive whimsy. But that's part of why this meeting of minds is so fertile. Gondry says he uses a lot of his own misunderstanding as a source of inspiration, and what's amazing here is how well his stylistically primitive but in fact visually sophisticated drawings clarify Chomsky's sometimes confounding prattle. The film's clunky title might seem like a willful Gondryism of imperfect English, but actually it's from Chomsky, who stresses how important it is that, given "the man who is tall is happy," children just know which "is" to move to turn that statement into a question. (We'll just have to do without the obvious improvement that neither man suggests: "Is the tall man happy?")

About The Author

Jonathan Kiefer

SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

Related Locations


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"