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Thom Yorke and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Anima is a new kind of musical adventure for Netflix

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The short film turns the Radiohead frontman into Buster Keaton

two heads, a man’s and a woman’s, shrouded in complete darkness with only their faces visible
Thom Yorke and Dajana Roncione in Anima.
Darius Khondji/Netflix

Anima arrives on Netflix after much fanfare — and a blink-and-you-missed-it IMAX theatrical engagement — and the good news is that it merits the hype. The short film (or “one-reeler,” as Netflix called it in the initial announcement) serves as a companion piece to Thom Yorke’s new album of the same name, stars the Radiohead frontman himself, and sets new songs “Not the News,” “Traffic,” and “Dawn Chorus” to picture.

The short is notable not only for the heavy hitters it’s brought to the streaming platform — Anima is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread, Boogie Nights) — but because it both does and doesn’t fit into the new projects that the company has been tackling. It’s not Netflix’s first music-oriented project (Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids, Homecoming), nor its first short (The Lonely Island Presents: The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience), but it fits less cleanly into the boxes of film or TV, as most Netflix original content has up to this point.

Anima is essentially a long music video, the kind you’d normally expect to debut on, say, YouTube or Vevo. But it’s on Netflix, and despite being accessible via phone, still best watched on as big a screen as possible, with the sound cranked up high.

Shot by Darius Khondji (Se7en, The Lost City of Z) and choreographed by Damien Gilet (Suspiria), Anima treads the line between sleeping and waking as Yorke travels from a subway line, to a grey, tilting dreamscape, to deserted streets and a departing tram as the sun begins to rise.

The combined efforts of the artists involved make even the most mundane settings feel somehow supernatural. As Yorke and a troupe of dancers ride the subway and make their way through the underground station, there’s a sense of somnambulism to the somber colors and coordinated movement. There’s almost no seam when Yorke passes into a mysterious, Interstellar-like space and begins to lose his balance as the ground changes angle underneath him.

Through it all, Yorke pursues a mysterious woman (played by Dajana Roncione, his real-life partner), which perhaps gives away the short’s gradual transition to romance. Yorke’s struggles to simply navigate the environment around him give way to fluid, graceful motion, instead of the more abrupt style of dance that had come before. The final song, “Dawn Chorus,” feels like melting in comparison to the eerier “Not the News” and “Traffic,” and the colors become warmer in turn.

The new songs are all wonderful (particularly for anyone left wanting more after Yorke’s last solo effort, the deliciously creepy Suspiria soundtrack), but the most notable part of Anima is Yorke’s performance. His melancholy features are a perfect canvas upon which to project the dreamy music he writes, and his physical performance is no less impressive. He seems to channel silent star Buster Keaton in the way he freely throws himself around the frame, conveying manic energy in one frame and utter exhaustion in the next, simply from the way he holds himself. The feeling that remains as Yorke falls asleep at the end of the film is of peace, earned after earnest struggling to make sense of the world.

For Yorke and Anderson (who have already collaborated on a few music videos for Radiohead), Anima feels like a natural culmination, as Yorke’s work has always had a filmic quality (his work for Suspiria literally so) and Anderson has been making music videos with artists like Fiona Apple and Haim since 1997.

For Netflix, the short film feels like something markedly fresh. On the heels of projects that would seem the indicate that the company is looking to branch into something new, this stunning music video/short film is certainly a new frontier.

Anima is streaming on Netflix now.