After seeing Mr Fox my appreciation for cult director Wes Anderson’s work has reached a new high and I think this is the perfect time to have a brief look at some of his films to examine his impact on modern cinema. He has achieved quite a cult following and is very popular in the film industry but he has come under a lot of stick due to his slightly pretentious and strange style. Some have even said his work is devoid of any real emotional weight. Wes Anderson’s vision however is one that is strangely upbeat but at the same time very deadpan and brutally honest. This by no means suggests that his films are emotionally vacant – quite the opposite. Anderson’s stories are generally about flawed, misguided protagonists, often with questionable morals and attitudes who learn by trial and error to appreciate their flaws as well as their strengths. We also see characters who look for redemption, purpose or success and we see dysfunctional families that learn to cope with one another despite the wrongs they have done. We find that redemption, success and forgiveness are never impossible in Anderson’s tales. Despite this Anderson’s films are far from being sentimental and gushing but are performed in the most subtle, honest and understated fashion. This combination results in his films being ones of quiet beauty and deep intimacy. I have selected four of Anderson’s films which display these traits and that you need to see if you haven’t already.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Anderson tells the tale of the Tenenbaum family who were at one point poised for greatness until a series of failures by father Royal plunged the family and their ambitions into disarray. The family, now largely split up and seldom in contact with each other, have rejected Royal for years and wife Etheline has filed for divorce. Many years later Royal is out of money and is forced onto the street so he hatches a bizarre plan to quickly regain the trust and love of his family or to at least get a roof over his head. Gene Hackman stars as the brilliant Royal Tenenbaum with Bill Murray, Luke & Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Angelica Houston all putting in career best performances. This beautifully told story epitomizes the recurring Anderson themes of the dysfunctional family unit and rejection. We find though that perhaps even a low-life like Royal Tenenbaum is perhaps worthy of redemption.
Fantastic Mr Fox
This is Anderson’s most recent effort and it is perhaps his best. Based on the classic Dahl tale it tells the story of Mr Fox (Played in super-suave tradition by George Clooney), an ex-thief who gets greedy and decides to do one last master plan to raid the three most affluent farms in the area only for them to retaliate, shoot his tail off and hunt down his family. As a result the whole wood is upturned and destroyed by the farmers desperate to eliminate the rest of Mr Fox. Like The Royal Tenenbaums we are met with the misguided protagonist attempting to seek redemption for his costly mistakes. Aside from that we also find very existentialist themes of purpose and human nature. Despite the characters being animated foxes, badgers and possums, they could not be more human. Anderson definitely brings new life and meaning to a classic childrens tale. For more information read the recent review.
This tale is about a teenager named Max Fischer who has a reputation for getting things done. He excels in every extra-curricular activity the school has to offer and always achieves over and above his means. His drive for success however deludes him and he starts failing every class, not that he cared much about his lessons anyway! He also becomes infatuated by a new teacher in the school who does not reciprocate the same sentiment. Max is left wallowing in self-pity as these mounting catastrophes takes its’ toll on his previously hardened ego. He understands where his strengths are but has yet to come to terms with how to deal with his failures. It is a movie about a young man trying to find his place in the world and define himself. It is an odd, near fantasy like film, that is not unusual in Anderson’s cinematic world, in which the children are like adults and vice-versa. This is one of the less accessible Anderson films but after a couple of viewings it grows on you, like marmite or David Lynch’s quiff! (see picture below)
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
This emotionally charged tale follows oceanographer Steve Zissou and his quest to catch the ‘jaguar shark’ that ate his friend and collegue Esteban. Pretty soon a team of willing friends and supposed family members join in and help Zissou in his quest to kill the beautiful but murderous creature. Bill Murray’s performance is easily on of the best of his career and the strong supporting cast allows it to stand tall as one of the best Anderson flicks. It is another great film about purpose, redemption and love. Very hard to find these days unless you shop online but definitely one to get a hold of if you get a chance.
What are your thoughts on Wes and his quirky, hip and bizarre cinematic world? Are his characters ‘bogged down in mannerism’, as Anthony Lane once said, and his stories lost in an overly elaborate and limited scope or is he possibly one of the best writer/directors out there? Let us know your thoughts on Mr Anderson or suggest any of his other films you think deserve to be on the list.