Why I Hate Wes Anderson
For the past three weeks I’ve immersed myself in the world of an auteur to conquer a personal yet difficult challenge: Watch/re-watch every Wes Anderson film to validate a common phrase I’ve uttered in many film discussions, “I hate Wes Anderson.” For some time I’ve been the black sheep in conversations with peers and friends while they have lauded the director as if he were the 2nd coming. Over the years I have attempted desperately to hop on the Wes Anderson bandwagon, watching his films multiple times yet never being able to finish them as a result of boredom and lack of interest, with exception to Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Numerous times I’ve plopped down with a Wes Anderson DVD, sometimes sober most times not, determined to finish at least one film yet never finding enough interest to do so. That is why re-watching five of his seven films has seemed like near torture to me. Initially I had hoped that after immersing myself into Anderson’s world, the result would be an epiphanal appreciation of sorts, but instead I’ve been left with disappointment and further confusion as to why his films are held with such high regard.
“Hate” is a strong word, one that I was willing to take back for the sake of fairness when this task was conceived, however, after watching the 4th of the five films on my agenda, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, a two-hour film that took me roughly four hours to finish, “hate” is the only word that could fully convey my reaction to an Anderson film. Now let me redeem myself first by admitting that I appreciate Anderson as a director. I get why he’s considered a visionary and you can quote me as saying that he is one of the best visual directors in contemporary cinema. His directorial eye is on par with legends like Orson Welles and Dario Argento. Anderson uses the camera in his films to capture stunning images as elaborately as possible through saturated vibrant colors and perfectly angled shots. His films aesthetically drip with the quirky personality and sense of humor he attempts to showcase through his characters. In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou for instance, characters are created through Anderson’s visual representation of them; Zissou’s boat, The Belafonte, takes on a life of its own as Anderson introduces it in a long shot establishing the massive size of its structure and the numerous rooms within it. Through an impressive long-take and with heavy emphasizes on the bright colorful set design and props, Anderson uses the camera to effortlessly explore each room of the boat establishing the different personalities of the separate rooms.
By showcasing brilliant images filled with striking bold colors that are accentuated by great cinematography and perfect lighting, Anderson proves that he is a phenomenal visionary director, however, it’s his attempt as a writer that causes his films to fail nearly every time. Anderson has a knack for creating intriguing yet oddball characters, such as the precocious 15-year-old Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) in Rushmore, the missing fingered child prodigy Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) in The Royal Tenenbaums, and the washed-up stoner oceanographer, Steve Zissou (Bill Murray). Although his characters hold a sense of intrigue due to their uniqueness and quirks, no true human qualities and complexities are shown and therein lies my major gripe with Anderson. He creates an interesting world of abnormal characters, most of which have been child prodigies, yet he does nothing to develop these people and give the audience a true sense of who and why they are.
While at times there are developments in his film’s narrative, none of his characters receive the same development and their apathetic attitudes toward life makes for uninteresting and unrealistic people to watch on screen. The Royal Tenebaums is a slightly humorous and physically beautiful presentation of a dysfunctional family, yet it’s the main Anderson film that I’ve always found myself praying for its ending half way into it. The characters are all so mellow and lethargic that they don’t demand attention or sympathy and their relationship with one another is only briefly discussed in exposition at the film’s beginning as opposed to being shown through dialogue and emotional moments between characters. By the film’s ending, it’s a bit ridiculous that a family who has been at odds for so many years manage to bond closer than ever in a matter of weeks although no confrontations, resolutions, or apologies have been made.
Anderson’s characters are just that; characters. Everyone is solemn and apathetic, they don’t react with genuine emotion, and they converse as if they take life seriously yet in situations don’t act sincerely. Most, if not all, of his characters are unlikable and express little personality for audiences to relate to. Throughout Anderson’s films, his characters have stated lines like, “I’m going to set out to find the shark that ate my best friend and destroy it,” “I’m going to kill myself tomorrow,” and “I’m gonna pop a cap in his ass;” yet none of these lines are delivered with passion. Instead they’re monotone and listless regardless of the fact that they are meant to be delivered with motivation and conviction. Anderson’s films play out as if someone created a false world where problems only exist as a means of plot devices and coincidences. A “good” film doesn’t do that, instead a good film draws you in and makes you believe the story you’re watching could or has actually happened.
I assumed all was lost in my search for a good Wes Anderson film until I got to The Darjeeling Limited, the 5th and final film. I initially thought, “dear God he finally got it right!” The Darjeeling Limited soothed my anger and made me believe that finally Anderson had perfected his niche. An exquisitely bright and colorful film, The Darjeeling Limited is a road trip movie following three very dysfunctional brothers on a train ride to India at the behest of their older brother Francis (Owen Wilson), fresh from a near death experience. Although Francis and his brothers Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Peter (Adrian Brody) are estranged, the trio attempt to make the best of their trip and reach a transcendental point of spiritual self-discovery, however, their individual neurosis surface and they must deal with each other and their own flaws while accepting those of their family.
For once in Anderson’s career the characters of The Darjeeling Limited seemed real, situations felt natural and genuine despite the overly Technicolor world they live in. The affluent brothers desire to find tranquility in India but their upbringing prompts scenes of overly stereotypical American behavior from them. In one scene the brothers are praying in a temple but Francis notices that Peter is wearing his missing belt causing him to confront his brother about the importance of asking first. Jack immediately after realizes his passport is missing and is convinced that he was pick-pocketed until Francis reveals that he has it, causing another confrontation in the temple. Annoyed by the distractions Peter leaves to pray at another temple, a great assessment of how his character is dealing with the personal turmoil he is revealed to be experiencing. The Darjeeling Limited’s script seemed to allow for great character evolution even though the subject’s situations do not.
Anderson finally seemed to prove himself as a writer—that is until the film’s 60 minute mark. By this point in the film I began to get antsy and although it was intriguing enough to actually hold my attention and keep me entertained, the problem was that the film continued on, resulting in it losing its focus. Characters become inconsistently aloof and remaining portions of the film are simply boring and overly self-indulgent. Situations began to only arise for the sake of capturing a “cool shot,” such as the brothers doing rituals on top of a mountain. The last half of the film fails so hard that the flaws of Anderson began to chip away at any redeeming qualities the film held at its start.
Anderson’s films are merely situations that stock characters find themselves in, a device that is the result of subpar writing. His only successful film as a writer/director has been Fantastic Mr. Fox, as his style and humor translates more effortlessly and effectively in animation. Character’s are developed and make sense for once. It’s in Mr. Fox’s nature to be the way he is: a one-upper show-off filled with arrogance and his actions showcase that, his friends reiterate it, and Mr. Fox himself admits it. All of these elements allow viewers to understand his character thus creating, at the least, empathy when he’s faced with conflict. At the end of the day Mr. Fox is what he is, a fox, and his own personal traits are what lead to the film’s conflict and resolution. However, to say that Fantastic Mr. Fox is the only successful Anderson film brings to mind the correlation that Anderson merely adapted the characters from an existing short story written by Roald Dahl.
I just simply don’t understand the importance of Wes Anderson’s films. Anderson often tells the story of an upper class white family who has no real conflict in their lives except for the ones they create. Anderson constructs characters that viewers are supposed to care for, however, they are never developed enough to encourage true empathy from the audience. Sure they have backgrounds and bad pasts but they never show sincere emotion when confronted with it. They are somber, numb, robotic, and simply characters in a film. Films aren’t watched and regarded so highly because we are watching pawns do a part, a good film and great characters draw you in and makes you believe its reality. If it weren’t for his lavish directorial skills and great ear for perfect soundtracks, I believe that Anderson’s cult following wouldn’t be nearly as large as it currently is.
Tyler Perry has been condemned by critics and his peers for his use of stock characters that are flat and predictable. He has been accused of promoting stereotypes and regurgitating the same unrelatable characters in each of his films. If Perry is to be burned at the stake then shouldn’t Wes Anderson as well? All of his characters are virtually the same, the only thing he trumps Perry over are visuals and atmosphere, however, if stuck in a room with either a Tyler Perry movie or a Wes Anderson film, I’d break both DVDs and slit my wrists to escape the slow torture I would have to endure by watching either.