Focus On: Wes Anderson
All directors but one grow up, perhaps. Wes Anderson’s work from the beginning of his career has harped on halted states of maturity – arrested development, if you will.
However, he did not make a film aimed at children until FANTASTIC MR FOX, which was nominated for the academy award for Best Animated Feature of 2009. An animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book, FANTASTIC MR FOX was something of a completed circuit for Anderson, who has mentioned he sought to emulate elements of Dahl’s work when making 1998’s RUSHMORE, his first studio film. Coming on the heels of indie production BOTTLE ROCKET (1996), an extension of a short Anderson made while in college, RUSHMORE immediately established him as a polarising figure in cinema. His voice would only become more pronounced with further films.
An acquired taste or merely a specific one, Anderson’s works have come to be known for their distinctive flavour. Over the years, Anderson acquired a revolving team of regular cohorts, a list so long that his Wikipedia entry has a helpful chart cross-referencing which writers, actors, and crew are attached to which film. Critics have accused Anderson of stagnation, but while you can argue that he tends to add similar ingredients to each project, the resulting dish varies. Anderson’s end results have a consistency of note in part because of the reliable nature of these co-creators and their ability to deliver what he asks. This continuity of execution allows for ensemble casts that contain no bland or poorly defined supporting characters.
…Anderson’s films have always blurred the social standard for age-appropriate behavior.
MOONRISE KINGDOM is Anderson’s first live-action film with youthful protagonists since RUSHMORE, and judging from reviews, his best received as well. Possibly critics and audiences alike are more sympathetic to children who behave like adults than adults who act like children, but Anderson’s films have always blurred the social standard for age-appropriate behavior. For Anderson, adults will be kids and kids will behave with maturity and precocity. The frozen, reactive adolescence of the Tenenbaum children is mitigated by their preternaturally adult behaviours and the childish nature of Royal Tenenbaum. RUSHMORE’s Max Fischer and THE LIFE AQUATIC’s Steve Zissou are both tenacious, absurd figures bound by the pugnacity of their own deliberate agendas and yet fragile, constantly on the verge of going too far. The estranged adult brothers in THE DARJEELING LIMITED band together in search of their neglectful mother, a grown-up narrative of children-surviving-on-their-own and a three-voiced chorus on the erratic and unreliable nature of family history and shared memory.
Persistent attempts to align inner, emotional realities with the shifting territory of mutual experiences define Anderson characters. They are resolute even, and perhaps especially, when resolve means folly. They have secret plans and schemes, they have tremendous emotional investment in their outcome, no matter how ridiculous or unlikely the trappings of their crusade. They seek to right wrongs, committed by themselves or others, to build bridges between relations and friends, to achieve reparation. They want love, fame, revenge, and forgiveness.
Particularly skilled at pinpointing the moment when things unravel for a character, Anderson seems to revel in detailing slow-motion disasters of personality.
Particularly skilled at pinpointing the moment when things unravel for a character, Anderson seems to revel in detailing slow-motion disasters of personality. People in his stories dream big, in brilliantly tinted color, but Anderson makes us witness also to their small, unlovely moments, those instances of failure and humiliation which plague dreamers. That their efforts to realize these dreams in the waking world go poorly is the crux of the conflict of all Anderson films.
Anderson’s directorial choices are not unlike those of his characters. He exhibits a willingness to be found absurd, to be perceived as ridiculous or pretentious. Protagonists in Wes Anderson films do not achieve falsely gracious resolution. They die, they fail, they succeed by accident, and their parents leave again. They share moments which satisfy no one, from awkward codas to triumphal marches. Instead of offering these events cloaked in the muted hues and dramatic sensibilities of more usual Oscar fare, Anderson enlists profusely theatrical visuals and deadpan delivery to put across the emotional gravity of a situation. Cinematic cues clash in the juxtaposition. In spite of the quirk audiences tend to find charming or off-putting by turns, the thread tying Anderson’s together is sincerity. Beneath the unabashed color palette, under the veneer of cinematic references and sartorial flounces, there lies Anderson’s honestly rendered variant of our world, in which people appear in more astonishing detail and no one fades into the background.
- Moonrise Kingdom by Jim Ross (Managing Editor)
- The Cabin In The Woods by Ann Linden
- Takeover: I ♥ Huckabees by Ann Linden