Choose any of Wes Anderson’s eight full length films. Choose a random scene from that film. Pause the film at any time during that scene. What is left on that screen is a story in an image – a complex, carefully calculated and altogether captivating work of art. Within even the tiniest fraction of the film, you can find yourself captured by emotion, characters, setting and of course, the story. In his craft, Wes Anderson is often remembered for his visual style, for the dollhouse-esque set designs, technical precision along symmetrical lines and a meticulous color palate. And while these elements make his films unique and enthralling, they are not enough to make a film exceptional. And while Wes Anderson may always be known for his visuals, he is at heart a brilliant story teller with a terrifically endearing sense of imagination and deep understanding of human emotion.
There is a reason so many of his films heavily feature the motif of storytelling – whether it is in a narrators voice that starts a story (i.e. Moonrise Kingdom) or a cover of a book that contains the story of the film (i.e. Royal Tenenbaums and Grand Budapest).
Each film demonstrates an appreciation of the art of storytelling that extends beyond a simple plot. In Steve Zissou’s disillusionment with human society or Suzy Bishops obsession with fantasy novels, Wes Anderson is not so subtly pointing out the power the fantastic has over the human mind. And through his unique style of filmmaking and gift for constructing endearing stories, Wes Anderson is able to craft these fantastic worlds to present to the viewer. We as viewers feel at once uncomfortable in this world of cookie cutter precision but also utterly captivated by a world just mystical enough. And when the film is finished you are left wanting more, not ready to return to a world of normalcy.
What makes Wes Anderson a visual visionary is his meticulous adherence to details. In every shot, there is a strong sense of artistic perfection, that everything is exactly where is should be. Now combine this with the nostalgic elements that often underlie the films stories (a hotel owner reminiscing on his days as a lobby boy, a high school student not ready to leave school, a father trying to reclaim his place in the family he left) and you are left with the cliché “good old days” reflected brilliantly onto a tightly choreographed set. However, where Anderson truly makes his mark as a great mind is in the contrast he establishes between the perfect and the imperfect, the bliss of nostalgia and the darkness of reality. He takes the dysfunctional family (i.e. Royal Tenenbaums or even the strained father-son relationship in Fantastic Mr. Fox) and darkly flawed characters (perhaps most overtly seen in the birthmark that covers Agatha’s cheek in Grand Budapest) but through clever manipulation of style he makes it endearing. He is not out there trying to make the viewer cry, but also is not afraid to hide what is real. He suggests through his nostalgia that even the greatest moments of our lives may be tainted by sadness (he kills off a pet in nearly every film), but that is okay. That is life.
So Anderson calls us to reevaluate our past. Are we Max Fischer, afraid to leave behind the “glory days” or are we Mr. Fox, recognizing the need to continue moving forward. He offers us these imperfect fantasy worlds where we can lost for the length of the story, drawing us in as we worship the perfection of every shot, and the imperfection in every person. He is more than a visual artist, he is a true story teller and every artistic choice he makes draws us closer into his world and thus into the story. And I love every second of it.