Wes Anderson and Innocence

Why do people love Wes Anderson so much? It could be his brand of quirkiness; it could be the extraordinary detail that comes into all of his production designs; or it could be the way his characters act and speak to one another. But I think the thing that most people love about Anderson and his films is an element that most people can’t exactly put their finger on. Please indulge me.

I started this pretentious blog in order to convey points about film(s) that I hoped would get people to think more about the movies they were reading about. I try to avoid doing straightforward reviews because that usually leads to more rambling and converts into more of an analysis mid way. I much prefer a comparison of two films or looking over a director’s career. So, this is one of the first “looking at a career” pieces I’m attempting.

Wes Anderson’s films have affected me for some time. The first film of his I saw was “Life Aquatic” on cable when I was 17. Something about it really intrigued me; the awkwardness of it, the way it was shot, and most importantly the cast. It just had this spark of originality I was not used to seeing. Afterwards I looked up who directed it, and wanted to get more into this person’s filmography.

So essentially what is Wes’ films about? In my opinion (and this is the “element” i was talking about) I feel it is all about (not) growing up, and the basis of one’s innocence. They’re about adults being put in situations that they do not fully realize the magnitude of; and usually ends up with them behaving like children.

Rushmore was Wes’ second film, and the one that really got him noticed by the masses. It deals with a middle aged self-made millionaire named Blume clashing with a 15-year old boy named Max over the affections of a grade school teacher. Blume uses this to avoid the reality that his wife is leaving him, and his two sons are becoming awful people. He escapes from his depressive self-made life, and becomes friends with Max. Eventually, they fight with each other, to the point where they’re wrecking bikes, and cutting break lines over a young teacher named Miss Cross. It’s all about these two characters “finding their Rushmore”: the one thing that will make them happy for the rest of their lives. Sadly, they both feel their Rushmore is Miss Cross.

While Max often acts mature and beyond his years, at the core he is still just a kid with a crush. The crush goes to certain extremes based on the fact that his best friend is in his 50’s and most of the people he converses with are much older than he is. This results in him pretending he is an adult doing such activities as drinking alcohol and beginning to smoke.

This is another minor note Wes Anderson has achieved. Through all of the innocence he puts in his films, Wes has successfully used smoking to romanticize his stories. This is an old technique that was used back in the day when smoking was portrayed by the media as cool, and has long since been dead for obvious reasons; but Anderson still uses it like the classic films did, which in effect, gives his movies a more classic, timeless feel.

Going back to Max, his relationships with Blume and Miss. Cross helps him grow up, and in turn helps Blume grow up past his relationship with his wife. He also helps Miss Cross deal with her husband’s death. While Rushmore mainly portrays a kid growing up as a homage to films like The 400 Blows and The Graduate, more of Anderson’s recent films deal with the idea of adults still trying to grow up; more so than the kids. Like the infamous scene in The Graduate, we see Blume diving into the bottom of the pool, and staying there to think about how one-track his life has become.

Rushmore also developed Anderson’s way of using music to convey feeling. He uses British invasion rock to represent Max’s rebellious attitude, and his over-romantic ideals. This all contributes to how Rushmore really was Anderson’s breakout as opposed to Bottle Rocket.

Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Life Aquatic deal with troubles that come from fatherhood. “Limited” is about three grown brothers who cannot get over their father’s death (much like Miss Cross & her husband in Rushmore), while “Royal” is all about a horrible father who is trying to make up for the upbringing he never gave his kids. (we’ll get to Aquatic later)

In “Darjeeling Limited” three brothers go on a trip together to escape their hum drum lives and they all soon discover that aspects of their father’s death have struck them all in different ways. Each of them has a different item of their father’s that they still hang on to; much like a child would when a parent passes away (examples: the father’s glasses in The “Sixth Sense”, the mother’s locket in “Super 8”). By the end of the film, they “grow up” and learn to move on and love each other.

“Royal” has a much more difficult conflict. The grown children of Royal (the father) were overly mature when they were kids. One was a playwright, another was a successful tennis player, and the third ran a real estate business. Because of this behavior, their father treated them as adults, even going as far to sue the one over keeping money from him. Because of this, when they reached adulthood they relapsed into a state of dependency, causing them to all move back into their childhood home, much to their mother’s disgust.

In the end, this all becomes about Royal growing up as a father, as well as his kid’s attempt to love him for who he is, as well as learning to grow from under his shadow.

Now the biggest problem that most critics have with Wes’ newer films is that they get so bogged down by his increasingly whimsical plots and sets, that you begin to loose focus on the bigger picture. I on the other hand feel the exact opposite.

Case in point: my favorite film of Wes’ thus far has been Life Aquatic. It is Wes at is quirkiest and most surreal, and to me it has one of the stronger stories of his filmography. My least favorite of his is Bottle Rocket which was his first effort. (small UPDATE I have since grown to love “Bottle Rocket)

The problem lies in the fact that on one, Wes had a ton of money and resources, and on the other he was just starting out as a filmmaker. Life Aquatic is a tale about a famous oceanographer who cannot stand the reality of being a father. This gets mostly hidden and tucked away over an epic journey that takes us to extraordinary places and shows us some amazing images (great stop motion work by the great Selick). Bottle Rocket is the story about three men who cannot grow up and get past the delusions of being daring thieves like something out of Ocean’s 11.

This main ideal needs to carry the story all the way because of its shoestring budget and lack of production value. It was still enough, however, to be seen at various festivals, and get production companies to invest in Wes Anderson’s next venture which would become Rushmore.

The lack of budget is by no means Anderson’s fault. Everyone needs to start somewhere. But, the problem lies in the fact that Bottle Rocket doesn’t contain enough to distract you from the main ideal. This causes more straight forward storytelling than one would experience on an epic like Life Aquatic. Life Aquatic isn’t just about fatherhood, it’s about a man’s quest for vengeance. Bottle Rocket isn’t just about growing up, it’s about a heist. One of these story-lines trounces the other based on originality and openings for creativity, and because of that Bottle Rocket looses it’s touch with finding a deeper meaning, mainly because the deeper meaning is now smacking you in the face (that sounded very rambly, so I apologize).

Overall, Aquatic is a wonderful film with Anderson in his prime, and Bottle Rocket is a brilliant way of Anderson to introduce himself into the film world.

As his resources continue to grow, so does his production value, which largely helps out with the film’s story lines. Whether Wes continues to use this to his advantage is obviously up to him, but as Life Aquatic, and Fantastic Mr Fox showed everyone, he is not letting up on his New Wave ideals and his continually growing quirkiness.

Looking ahead, I am strongly anticipating his return to the main idea of kids trying to grow up, while in the background the adults are subtly trying to do the same.