Wes Anderson: Ironic and Idealized America (Pt. 2)

Yesterday, I spoke mostly about film as art and how Wes Anderson’s films, to me, are the best representatives of that notion. Words, dialogue, and narrative structures also fit into “the arts”. Words create images in our heads, spark imagination, conjure deep sorrow, and tickle our funny bones (wherever that may be). I remember thinking “Hey! Ron Weasley should be taller and ganglier!” when I saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone many years ago. Our minds are the best adapters of words on pages, but.. you’ve got to hand it to screenwriters, they tackle a task most of us would not enjoy and do a fair job (for the most part: coughHalfBloodPrincecough).

I love Wes Anderson’s storylines. He creates story worlds of irony, dry, dark humor, satire, sympathy and empathy. The stylistic elements of his films (cinematography, editing) both conflict with and compliment the narrative. That’s where the title of this blog receives its name. Anderson’s America is both idealized and ironic because the idealized America is glorious in its presentation but destructive in its explication. The “good ol’ days” or “golden days” were neither good or golden because families, corporations, and institutions have always been on a downward slope. Where the grass is always greener (or yellower, or orange-er… whichever colour Anderson decides), there is a dark and hilarious story to tell — depending on your type of humor. That’s why the nostalgia works perfectly with his narratives.

So, here are a few of the narrative conventions of Wes Anderson films.

Dysfunctional Families

Dysfunctional families or dysfunctional family units are common themes in most of Anderson’s films. The best and most obvious choice to describe the dysfunctional family is, of course, the Tenenbaums. Not one member of the family is normal which reminds me of my own family… which should probably remind you of your family.

Symmetrical, but dysfunctional.

Symmetrical, but dysfunctional.

Family Unit in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Failing Father Figure (F.F. Fox?) and/or Divorce

I’ve driven Royal Tenenbaum (and the Tenenbaums) into the ground, so how about Mr. Fox of Fantastic Mr. Fox? He makes Meryl Streep (also known as Mrs. Fox) cry and his son hates him. If you make Meryl Streep cry, you’re dead in my books. Dead. Mr. Fox destroys his home, family, and animal community out of desire for wealth. The failing father figure and divorce add the spice of reality to the cookie cutter suburbia Anderson creates through set design and colouration.

I just love to hate Royal Tenenbaum. He's so likable and horrible.

I just love to hate Royal Tenenbaum. He’s so likable and horrible.

Failing Father and Mother Figures

Failing Father and Mother Figures

Gifted Children

Regardless of Troop 55’s accusations of being a psychopath, Sam Shakusky is a child prodigy. Recall the symmetrical shots of his paintings from my previous blog and his aptitude as a scout exceeds his peers. Recall Margot Tenenbaum as a young playwright or even Kristofferson. The children in Anderson’s films seem to surpass the intelligence of adults… which leaves the audience rooting for the underdog.

Sam needs to kick the habit before he reaches 15.

Sam needs to kick the habit before he reaches 15.

Kristofferson and Ash devise a plan.

Kristofferson and Ash devise a plan.


One comment

  1. Very good write-up. I absolutely love this site.

    Continue the good work!

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