It’s fall, so that means I’ve been watching a lot of Wes Anderson movies. I mean, every season is a great season for Wes Anderson movies, but there’s something about the first frost that gets my heart going for those autumnal palettes and all I wanna do is curl up on the couch and live in those cozy stylized worlds he creates so well.
This fall, especially, has been a good time to be a Wes Anderson fan. First and most importantly, the past week has seen the release of both a one-sheet poster and trailer for Anderson’s next feature-length film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s everything I could possibly expect and hope for in a Wes Anderson film (except for that font! Goodbye, Futura, hello, Archer!) and I know I’ll be there opening day, whenever that might be.
It came just as The Wes Anderson Collection, a beautiful new book by TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz, hit shelves. The book features an extended interview with Anderson, conducted over the past few years, and includes lots of fascinating pre- and post-production photos, artwork, stills, and documents. It’s organized by movie, with a chapter focusing on each of his films, and after a good sit-down with the book at Powell’s during my Portland trip this weekend I am more excited than ever to really dig in to all the treasure it contains.
While promoting the book, Zoller Seitz has given lots of interesting interviews and articles of his own, including this one today on “24 Things I Learned Writing My Wes Anderson Book.” It’s full of interesting tidbits, but I was particularly struck by Wes’ strong conviction that each viewer feel legitimized in his or her own interpretation of his work:
Back in 2010, I did a video essay on The Darjeeling Limited for the movie’s Criterion Blu-ray edition. Wes’ only note was that he wondered if there was some way to make the narration sound less authoritative, because he didn’t want people thinking that my interpretation of his work was in some sense the “official” or “approved” interpretation. It was important to Wes that every viewer feel that his or her own take on the film was equally valid. So I re-recorded the audio track of the video essay to make it sound more extemporaneous—as if I was just making up the thoughts off the top of my head and they were just one guy’s opinion. The finished piece expressed exactly the same thoughts as the first version, but the tone was warmer and more casual, and hopefully communicated to viewers that it was just one way of looking at the movie.
Similarly, during the writing of The Wes Anderson Collection, Wes repeatedly told me it was important to communicate to readers, through tone and design, that the seven critical essays were my take on his work, that he himself neither approved nor disapproved of their observations, and that readers should feel that their own take was just as valid.
And that’s the thing about Wes Anderson, the thing that makes the people who love his films feel so passionately about them, They are ours. They are deeply personal, adopting a highly stylized (some might say affected) tone to tap into the deep recesses of memory, the insecurities and the hurts and the longings and the desires and the triumphs that take on a golden tone as they fade into our past and color our present. They break down human experience to its basic elements and package them in new and surprising ways so we can feel them for the first time all over again.
There are moments in every movie that cut through that surface and touch me deeply. In Moonrise Kingdom, it’s the moment shared by Suzy’s parents in their separate beds during the storm as they apologize for the wounds they’ve inflicted on each other. It ends with Laura telling her husband to buck up for the sake of the children: “We’re all they’ve got, Walt.” He responds, “That’s not enough.” In Fantastic Mr. Fox, it’s the simple exchange between Mr. and Mrs. Fox, when she asks him why he lied to her and he replies, “Because I’m a wild animal.” They might be different for you; they probably are. That’s the beauty of Wes Anderson’s films.
My favorite of his films is The Royal Tenenbaums. It’s also the first I saw, and I don’t find the connection coincidental. I first saw it alone, on my laptop, in a budget hotel near Heathrow airport. It was the night before the flight that would take me home after a semester abroad, and I had a night to kill after carpooling with my friends whose own flights had left earlier that day. I’d heard vaguely good things about this one but I knew the director was known for his unique vision and didn’t expect to like it much (I was a much different person then). It had been a really hard few months, and I had spent most of it journaling in coffee shops and walking the neighborhoods and parks of London, thinking and processing and praying and often wishing I were home. That night in the airport hotel just happened to fall on the second anniversary of my dad’s sudden death, the first anniversary I would spend away from my family. I felt like I should commemorate that but I had no idea how. So I did the only thing I could think to do with no money and no mode of transportation: I holed up in my hotel room and watched movies I had downloaded from my friend Scott’s hard drive. From the first moment it captured me with its charm: I had never seen anything like this. It somehow felt both like how I felt and wanted to feel, like the world as it was and how I wanted it to be, and by the time Chas is riding in the ambulance with Royal I had to set my laptop aside as the tears I had been holding in for weeks came flooding out.
This is why I love Wes Anderson. I get that not everyone does. I think he’s okay with that. A really great film is a very personal thing, and it simply can’t mean the same thing to all people. That’s not how art works. I have my Wes Anderson, and you have yours. I’m happy he lets us all live in his world, one movie at a time.