7. Film References
Because of his very unique visual style, most film references in Wes Anderson movies go over the head of even the more seasoned persons among you. While Tarantino seems to recreate scenes from the movies that inspired him, Wes transposes these scenes and integrates them in a more seamless way.
In the two volumes Matt Zoller Seitz published, with interviews given by Wes Anderson and his collaborators, he points out some of the movies whose homage is visible on screen, if you look hard enough.
The first visual reference dates back to 1994, to Wes Anderson’s first short “Bottle Rocket”, which was reshot for his the homonymous feature made two years later. The two protagonists talk over a pinball machine, as do two characters in Truffaut’s “400 Blows”.
In the feature there’s an underwater shot, which is an homage to Mike Nichol’s “The Graduate”. So is the pool scene in “Rushmore”. From “Harold and Maude” to “Top Gun”, “On the Waterfront” to Charlie Brown cartoons. These are just a couple of examples of homages from his first two feature films.
Throughout his filmography they become too many to mention. Most escape the most dedicated cinephile’s eye, but become obvious when side-by-side.
8. Order and Politeness
There are two traits of Wes Anderson’s cinema that contradict themselves. Walt Whitman would say that “he is large. He contains multitudes.”
The first one goes along with the public perception of the director and his movies: politeness. Almost every action of the characters is punctuated by a demonstration of respect towards other people. In “Bottle Rocket”, the characters played by Owen and Luke Wilson stick-up a “Barnes and Noble”.
Amid all the aggressiveness of a robbery, hooded masks and gun waving, they’re still sensitive to their own rudeness. The manager of the store says “Don’t call me an idiot, you punk.” One of them replies, “Do you have bigger bags for atlases or dictionaries… sir?”
In “Life Aquatic” two antagonists, Ned and Klaus, seem to be fighting over the love and attention of Steve Zissou. Literally. They punch each other, but then civilly converse about what punch is owed to whom.
After being manhandled, Zero says to M. Gustave, “Let them proceed.” Even in the mist of the biggest turmoil, characters manage to display “faint glimmers of civilization”. His characters seem to represent what is “left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.”
At the same time, the contained look and feel of his movies hides varying types of coarseness. One of them is the language. With the exception of “Moonrise Kingdom”, every movie contains a healthy dose of unhealthy language.
The F word is used by most characters more times than it’d be expected, given the way Wes and his movies are perceived. But it’s still contained. Only two times characters say a direct “f*ck you” to other characters. Both in his short. Both in the same sentence.
His female characters, on the other hand, rarely curse. After extensive research, I’ve found only one example of Anjelica Houston cursing in “The Aquatic Life with Steve Zissou”. Are women more polite than men? Wes seems to think so.
10. Unkindness Towards Animals
White mice are genetically modified in “The Royal Tenembaums”. In the same movie a dog is run over. Another is shot dead with an arrow in “Moonrise Kingdom”. A snake is killed in “The Darjeeling Limited”. A cat is thrown out of a window in “The Grand Budapest”. A rat is electrocuted to death in “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. “In the end, he’s just another dead rat in a garbage pail behind a Chinese restaurant.”
While death has been featured sparingly until “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, and handled delicately, the death of animals was present early on in his filmography.
11. Subdued Sexuality
There is one single shot of a more or less explicit sexual act in all the filmography of Wes Anderson. It is of M. Gustave enjoying oral sex and grapes, but it lasts a second at most. The kids in “Moonrise Kingdom” also explore the blooming of their sexuality in a more explicit way than the adults in the movie.
Eroticism is mostly absent, with a big exception in “Hotel Chevalier”, the short that precedes “Darjeeling Limited”. But sexuality is very present, usually implied. Characters kiss; cut to characters being semi-clothed in bed. Kissing cuts to smoking a cigarette. Children describe adults “giving each other handjobs” by the pool. A couple lays in bed semi-clothed, one of them reading a book.
This approach to sex is made with the sensibility of a kid who thought-up the most creative answers to the question “How are babies made?”, but was always too shy to say them out-loud.
12. Importance Given to Art
Arts and mainly books have a very important role. They’re sometimes conscientiously at centre stage. In a 2014 interview with Paul Holdengräber, Wes Anderson talked about both François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, in respect to the materiality of the books in Truffaut’s and the act of reading in Godard’s:
“(…) almost every Truffaut movie is his adaptation of a book he loves, and his movies are full of books. Their physical presence is a part of so many of his movies and, you know, probably no movie has more books than Fahrenheit 451. You know, they’re being destroyed, but it’s filled with them (…) I share that affection for books just even as objects as well as, you know, great stories (…)”
That love is represented visually by filling countless frames with books, mostly in the hands of their characters. Thematically, books also enclose the stories. “Tenenbaums” begins with a homonymous book, as does Fantastic Mr. Fox. This could be interpreted as simple visual quirkiness, but given the well documented obsessive attention for detail, it’d be unlikely that it’d be the case.
Further proof that these stories start out enclosed in a book is “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. It begins and ends with a book. A young girl holds one at its beginning and returns after the conclusion of the main story, holding the same book, reading its last pages.
In “Moonrise Kingdom”, the events seem to live on through a painting of the beach where the young lovers became intimate. The painting crossfades with the real beach, but that place no longer exists. These movies have a clear message: art and mainly books preserve stories, for they exist within them and live on through them.