Overthinking Wes Anderson

Hey, he’s one of our favorite contemporary filmmakers, and very, very easy to overthink. Still, this article actually manages to make sense of what he’s up to. Who could ask for more?

You Are Forgiven: A Unified Theory of Wes Anderson Movies – by JP Gorman

Various writing partners have helped Wes Anderson flesh out the scripts for each of his 6 live-action films, but the finished products are Anderson’s alone. Complex, noble beasts, Anderson’s films burst with a singular creativity and style that rewards re-watching in ways great and small. His chosen themes are deeply personal, and their delivery, stylized but always in the service of the larger point, is perhaps his signature strength as a filmmaker. He is a stylist of the highest order, but his style is never without purpose.

His themes are also ones to which most post-Baby Boomers can easily relate. The timing of their resonance to a given viewer’s life determines which of his films a person considers the best. Put another way, your favorite of Anderson’s movies was love at first sight. You were dealing with something, you saw his film, and right away it made you feel better. You didn’t know that you already knew what he had to say, but you did, and it only took one viewing of your favorite Anderson movie to bring that message home.

Certain things remain unchanged across Anderson’s filmography. Pick a film, any film, and there is a good chance it involves some or most of the following:

– Bill Murray
– Jason Schwartzman
– Owen Wilson
– Death of a loved one looming in the background of a main character
– A surprising casting decision involving a famous dramatic actor playing against type
– Mid-to-late 1960s pop music (often the Kinks or Rolling Stones)
– A close-up overhead shot of a hand doing something with an artifact from the film’s universe
– A crescendo towards the end where all the characters come together for a shared moment, sometimes in slow motion, set to deftly chosen popular music
– A Mark Mothersbaugh score

Every artist has his or her tool kit, and if we see these things as such (as opposed to, say, the limited and repetitive tics of a preening hack) we are then free to consider the wide-ranging thematic territory Anderson’s films cover. They may bear similar stylistic hallmarks, but each picture focuses on a different aspect of emotional development. To wit:

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Wow, this writer knows his Wes Anderson. And now, so do we. Wonder if the esteemed Mr. A would mind a friendly call…