A friend tweeted about Wes Anderson’s new movie: “It really brings back that childhood nostalgia.” I wanted to reply, “Are you insane?”
I took a breath and realized I have to play nice–Sure, camp and running away from home; I guess that’s playing on memories. But really, that’s what you took from that whole movie?
If people walk out of that film and feel all “awww” and “that was cute” I’m kind of hoping it’s because they were doped up on Junior Mints. I’m saying this not because I didn’t like it, but because there’s a lot packed into what Wes Anderson’s films have been doing and how they’ve been developing (and repeating) themes/lines/characters.
I know people have a love/hate relationship with him; overall I’m in the love: I give him credit for developing films based on critique. To my mind, his flat characters are intentionally flat because they live in a society that’s empty and boring. Their inner world is more full than the outer world. The outer world is lame, it’s so chock full of objects: record players, fur coats, sweat bands, bells and whistles. It’s aesthetically stunning to see the detail, and it’s heartbreaking to see that the details, the objects, don’t (can’t) ground characters (storytelling 101 would lead us to believe otherwise). Objects seem to bury characters in easy-to-read-characterizations-of-oddities. It’s frustrating. It’s smart.
The storytelling relies on the characters being “just a little bit off” and the audience identifying with that square peg feeling and wanting MORE. He tells us about characters. He tells us about “stuff” and how characters develop personality through objects, through a string of associations, and through storytelling that relies on some basics. I dig that.
And, I know I’m learning to live outside of teaching and outside of academia, I’m kind of concerned that we don’t talk about Wes Anderson more.
Mostly, because of where my mind (and body) is positioned, how he treats female characters.
Even in Moonrise Kingdom, which has a female lead, she’s still an affectless little doll. She makes her decision to run away because of a boy and he, of course, comes up with the plan and has the “know how”. Otherwise, without him, she’s in an “ivory tower” reading books where female leads are so fantastical they are living on other planets and completely unreal.
She is a cute, she is fashionable, and her purpose in life comes from being misunderstood until a boy seems to understand her.
We should look at this through a Feminist lens because Anderson is making challenging works. He leaves us with a main character who is still in a patriarch: a boy visits her, is brought by another man, and she’s still in the ivory and isolated tower.
Wes Anderson’s view of all women is strange. To be frank, it’s not the “pretty” of the main characters that sits with me or the “cute” of their precociousness; it’s not even the inwardness, lack of words, or “difficulty.” Instead, it’s that the women are invariably lead by men. This is a nice way to sum up the difficulty of adoring Wes Anderson and recognizing that it’s not entirely great for women. It’s not about not liking him, not about not thinking what he’s doing is great, it’s just recognizing that there’s a trend.
I kind of think the difficulty he presents MAKES HIM A GOOD FEMINIST (at least makes him aware). In the beginning of Moonrise Kingdom, when we meet our female lead, she’s just punched a mirror. Of course! Way to set the tone Anderson, to ask your audience to see how this is a critique of the woman as object, the woman being watched and the woman (girl) who is learning to watch her watchers (through binoculars even).She’s acting to the system of peeping.
And when she looks straight on at the camera, the passive role gets active and we have to face it all too. We have to realize that she kisses her “husband’s” hand because she’s being watched by a group of boys and by all of us. At the end even, when the boy is painting, we think he’s painting her (admit it, the whole scene is set up to make you think that and he did–before–draw her). He’s painting a landscape, one that they shared. Nice tactic Anderson. You got us, you caught us all thinking that she was the object again. It’s us, not you, who put her in that position. It’s us, not you, who felt uncomfortable when she danced in her underwear. You’re really hit the nail on the head and caught us. Huzzah.
It’s smart. It’s a clever nugget of a film and it’s worth a little more discussion (like all of his films). So yeah, nostalgia comment you are weak and I really want to have a round of beers with you and talk about what movie you were watching.