This 85-minute encounter between Gondry and Chomsky humanizes both men. Known for the challenging "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Science of Sleep," Gondry admits to nerves before the meeting. Chomsky is relaxed and accessible, perhaps not what we'd expect from the man who polled as the "world's top public intellectual" in 2005, known for political debates largely unexplored here.
To be sure, Chomsky's ideas never come off as shallow in addressing, for example, language acquisition, cognitive science, abstract psychic continuity, digital infinity, and more. Chomsky also describes his relationship with his parents, his painful personal experiences with anti-Semitism, how he came to pursue linguistics, the near impossibility of talking about his beloved, deceased wife Carol, and the joys of his three children. Illustrating all this, Gondry writes text on the screen and swirls through shapes and figures that morph rapidly. The visual barrage, at times, distracts from and makes difficult a focus on the ideas but is also, always, remarkable.
The playful, lively animation and the quick pace of the editing testify to Gondry's art school and music video background. Using his considerable cinematic savvy, Gondry has found a way to rescue an 85-minute intellectual exchange from any tedium. And he interrogates the title question, "Is the man who is tall happy?", often associated with Chomsky who explains structural versus linear proximity issues in forming the question, and the sophisticated grasp of linguistics at a very early age.
The St. Louis premiere of "Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?" is at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 11th through Sunday, April 13th. For more information, you may call 314-968-7487 or on the web at: Webster.edu/filmseries.