That title might be slightly misleading. I don’t have a crush on Wes Anderson. This isn’t a post about my affinity for skinny, pale men with questionable haircuts and distinctive artistic visions. [No offense about your look, Wes! Though, actually, maybe do rethink your hair.]
No, this post is about my love of his films and their very particular style. From Rushmore to The Grand Budapest Hotel (no, I’m not forgetting Bottle Rocket), I’ve made it a point not to miss one of his movies when they show up every two or three years.
In fact, one of my favorite movies (if not my absolute favorite) is The Royal Tenenbaums. I had seen Rushmore before Tenenbaums and enjoyed it well enough, but it hadn’t blown my mind. But then I watched Tenenbaums and I absolutely fell in love. It made me go back and watch Rushmore again, and I totally appreciated it in a way I hadn’t before. It made me sit up and take notice of Anderson, a film maker with a singular style. I sought out his directorial debut Bottle Rocket and re-watched Tenenbaums numerous times.
As a side note, I think it was with Rachel that I first watched The Royal Tenenbaums (probably at her suggestion, because she was super cool and so much more hip than me in 2001, the wise college student to my dorky high school self). Our absolute favorite character was and remains Dudley, the psychological patient of Bill Murray’s character, who suffers from “a rare disorder combining symptoms of amnesia, dyslexia, and color-blindness, with a highly acute sense of hearing.”
He is a treasure. And our favorite part is at the end of the film, when Raleigh St Clair is asked, “Can the boy tell time?” and Dudley himself shakes his head and scoffs at the absolute absurdity of the proposition. We use that headshake often to express our own derision at preposterous suggestions. It was only upon a recent re-viewing that I realized we’ve been misquoting it for years as “Can Dudley read?” Oh well, I think we’ll stick to our misquote as it’s now become our own shorthand for absurd suggestions.
Anyways, that was a tangent! The point is, by the time The Darjeeling Limited – his follow-up to The Royal Tenenbaums – was released I was a committed Anderson fan. His films tend to focus dysfunctional families (or surrogate families) and a desire to belong or to define one’s identity. While his films often have a silly or surreal tone, these themes of family and belonging lend his films a very real and poignant emotional core.
I often don’t appreciate this depth on the first viewing. Many times, I’m too caught up in the amazing visuals that Anderson creates to fully appreciate the deeper tones of his films. I may think his latest offering is just okay when I first watch it, but then the more I think about it and mull it over, the more I appreciate it – as I did with his most recent film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Or I’ll re-watch the film months or years later and appreciate lines or observe tiny details that add weight and resonance to a scene, which is what happened with both The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The characters seemed more fully realized and heartfelt than they had when I first watched.
But other times, I love the films right from the start, as with Tenenbaums or Moonrise Kingdom, which is just an absolute delight. In fact, the only film of his that I don’t go back and re-watch periodically is Bottle Rocket. It didn’t hit me in the same way as his other films, but to be honest, I can’t really remember it that well, so maybe I should go back and rewatch it!
While these common themes run through each of his films, they are each unique, original stories. And each story exists the in the other major hallmark of Anderson’s films: the fully realized, beautifully constructed, highly stylized worlds he creates.
Much smarter, more coherent film critics and super fans have devoted more research and delved far deeper in Anderson’s technique and style than I ever could. Like The Rushmore Academy, a blog dedicated to his work. Or The Wes Anderson Collection, an encyclopedic overview of his work up to Moonrise Kingdom by critic Matt Zoller Seitz.
So I will not attempt an in-depth analysis of Anderson’s technique, as it couldn’t possibly compare to their much better work. I’ll just say that I love the way each of his films has a very carefully created world. A world that is very close to the real world, but tweaked just enough that it comes across as an almost alternate reality. All of his scenes are carefully blocked and choreographed. The sets, props, and costumes are meticulously designed. And most charmingly of all, he often uses miniatures for big set pieces.
I know lots of people find his style really cutesy and painfully overwrought, but I just love it. I find the meticulously crafted scenes captivating and utterly engrossing. Anderson’s attention to detail translated perfectly to his stop-motion animation take on Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Basically, all of this is to say that I simply love Wes Anderson. And he seems to be getting better with age. While Tenenbaums will always be my favorite of his works, his two most recent offerings – Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel – deal with themes of loneliness, abandonment, loyalty and fear in the face of change.
So yeah, I love Wes Anderson. And I can’t wait to see what he does next.