Wes Anderson the Absurd

Tournage3
#27 Cussing photo of director Wes Anderson on the set of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)

The director/writer has a cult following and a hefty percentage of people who just don’t get him. This is indicative of his work, for Anderson’s films are full of contrasts and absurdities. There is an eloquence to his symmetrical staging of nature and characters like viewing artwork in a gallery.  Also, there is a jerkiness to his presentation with frozen pauses and delayed deliveries in contrast with ramped up movement and chase scenes of the collective. His dark themes contrast with brilliant colors, unnatural and creepy, like watching a cartoon. His characters are buffoons who grow on you because their intentions are noble while their schemes are ridiculous and violent. Above all, I like the intimacy of his films; his much-favored center shot places me in the front row before the proscenium. I breathe the plot and see the shimmer of sweat on the performers before me. Like a magician, Wes Anderson has suspended disbelief, and I am entertained.

theater of the absurd
1.theater in which standard or naturalistic conventions of plot,characterization, and thematic structure are ignored or distorted in order to convey the irrational or fictive nature of reality and the essential isolation of humanity in a meaningless world. 

One could argue Wes Anderson has modified the characteristics from the theater of the absurd and adapted it to his filmography. Is Wes Anderson a modern twist of Friedrich Dürrenmatt? I would love to see Anderson create a film adaptation of The Visit.

Anderson’s stories feel fragmented and bizarre, yet end up cohesive and imaginative. He has a knack for including violence and profanity into his world, and it doesn’t feel offensive. There’s a boyish charm to his stories, as though Anderson was a precocious seventh grader and never grew up, but with adult sophistication he now has the power to revisit the bullies, dogs, and authority figures and make them look ridiculous. Sweet revenge. Check out this great vimeo by Dávid Velenczei:

In The Fantastic Mr. Fox, he removes all profanity and inserts the word “cuss”.  This makes his character quirky and fun to listen. If you listen closely, all his scripts are full of puns and innuendos and satire. Anderson is one of the few directors who spreads out this talent and shares it with an ensemble cast. It’s not the principal character that’s great. It’s all of them.

You can count on his motley crew to stay put at an isolated setting. An apartment building. A train. A boat. A school. An island. A farm. A hotel. You can count on an elaborate chase scene and a fight. You can count on a quirky, perfect score of random hits and no CGI. And an askew happy ending.

It’s difficult to say which is my favorite. I hear his next film will be another stop-motion film about dogs. I loved The Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I’m all for it.

What do you think of Wes Anderson? 

50 thoughts on “Wes Anderson the Absurd

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  1. I didn’t like Fantastic Mr Fox anywhere near as much as you did, but I am a fan of his. He really is unique and his films are always so distinctive, both in storytelling and they way they are shot.

  2. I confess that I have only watched two, ‘The Life Aquatic’, and ‘The Royal Tenenbaums.’ I found them rather silly, and somewhat lacking in engagement. However, I have heard great things about ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, so may well give that one a go. I suppose I just don’t get him, in the same way as you. I’m not sure that I ever will.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. That’s okay, Pete. It’s like being a Monty Python fan. You either are or not. However, with WA, the Grand Budapest Hotel has an old-school European vibe to it you might appreciate. It’s right up there at top behind Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom.

    1. Hi Bill. Your three are my favorites. I saw life aquatic recently and appreciated it more the second time around. I am a big fan of stop motion animation, so was happy walking into it. I enjoyed it a lot.

  3. Overall I like him, but I must admit I was getting tired of his style a couple of films ago…certainly when I watched Moonrise Kingdom, anyway. That said, I enjoyed Grand Budapest as much as everyone else, so I’m firmly back on board for the time being! I’m a bit ambivalent about The Darjeeling Limited but the early ones like Tenenbaums, Rushmore and Zissou are pretty good.

  4. I’m a huge fan of “the theater of the absurd” so naturally I love Anderson. Funny, the only one I didn’t care for was Grand Budapest Hotel, perhaps Anderson’s most popular movie. Rushmore is my favorite, I think. “Moonrise” is a lovely tribute to the British movie “Melody,” a childhood favorite! Anyhow, Anderson is a terrific absurdist. I do think Stephen Chow (The God of Cookery, Kung Fu Hustle, etc.) is a tad better. Have you seen any of his films? I also love Terry Gilliam and Jan Švankmajer (Mr. Fox is very similar to Švankmajer’s work).

    1. Terry is the man in my book. Ah, thanks, Eric for suggesting Jan Švankmajer. Those dolls of his look like a nightmare. Still, surrealism is fun, so will check it out! Glad you stopped by.

  5. From the short teaser you’ve given us I’d say it goes beyond the absurd. Either he’s in need of some serious psychological reinforcement himself, or he’s giving a brilliant commentary on the dysfunctional world we live in today. Looking at our world news headlines this morning the latter is a possibility. 🙂

  6. I haven’t seen many Wes Anderson films, but I have seen “Fantastic Mr Fox” and really enjoyed it. My wife rented “The Grand Budapest Hotel” from the video store a few months back and I began watching it not knowing anything about it. I thought it was great. I don’t usually find Ralph Fiennes a very likeable character in most of his roles, but he was a scream in this, as was the rest of the cast.

  7. I don’t always get his movies but I enjoyed some of his films, esp Fantastic Mr Fox (not Fabulous Mr Fox though the film IS indeed fabulous, he..he..) and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The rather absurd filmmaker I don’t really get is Charlie Kaufman and I don’t find his films all that entertaining. I didn’t really like his stop motion film Anomalisa that critics adore, but I do look forward to what Wes’ next film.

      1. Oh I’m glad I’m not the only person who aren’t into Kaufman, but he has so many fans. People were calling Anomalisa a masterpiece, etc. and I don’t think I ever want to see that ever again. Wes has wit and whimsy, and despite their inherent absurdity, his films are a lot more entertaining than Kaufman’s,

  8. I have a love-hate relationship with Wes Anderson. I loved Fantastic Mr Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. I hated The Royal Tenenbaums, Steve Zissou and Rushmore.

  9. I actually hadn’t heard of him somehow until I saw The Grand Budapest, which ended up being my favourite movie on the year, and after having watched a bunch of his filmography you have summed up his style very well. I have loved every one, except for Bottle Rocket, I didn’t like that one as much as the others I have seen. Moonrise Kingdom was great.

    BTW I posted chapter five of my story, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have the time

  10. Love this guy; even if his fanbase tends to focus primarily on the ‘tweeness’ of his work, there’s a lot of intelligence and insight lurking. Fantastic Mr Fox is one of my faves of his (though The Royal Tenebaums is head and shoulders above the rest – funny that it’s your least favourite!).

    1. Dave, I’m glad we share the ♥ for Wes. In all fairness, I should probably revisit The Royal Tenebaums. It didn’t grove with me then. I appreciated The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou a lot more the second time around.

    1. Ruth, I’m asking for your grace–I’m a chicken with my head cut off–trying to secure a home to rent, 2 jobs, a quarreling family, and replacing a household full of electronics zapped by lightning. I’m sorry.

      1. Oh that’s totally ok, I was just checking to make sure my comment did go through ’cause WP has been a pain lately. I included this in my Everybody’s Chattin’ post too btw.

        So sorry to hear about your family situation. Sending prayers and good vibe your way, my friend!

  11. I’m not as enamoured with Wes Anderson as some people but I do like how his movies create their own world, with memorable quirky characters. I still have a lot of his movies to catch up on, so maybe my opinion will change? 😀

  12. I think just reading through this comment section is great, it’s really interesting seeing what many consider his ‘best’ or his least appealing, and some of those same ones are others’ most cherished bits. Here is a director that can do no wrong in my eyes. He’s absolutely brilliant and has a completely distinctive style, which, in the day and age we live in now, is very much a challenge in and of itself. Kudos to him, and to this wonderful, insightful post Cindy. Loved that Vimeo bit, as well.

    1. Hi Tom! I’m glad we share the same tastes regarding Wes. I appreciate your comments and the echo my own sentiments. I have him in the same mental box as the Coen Brothers. I admire their ability to be quirky and intelligent and innovative.

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