Regarding film as an art form has become an increasingly prevalent cultural phenomenon in the last couple decades. Technological innovations have allowed moviegoers to visit the vast depths of space as well as the inner chasms of our own psyches in both a literal and figurative sense. Some filmmakers, however, choose to keep to a more traditional approach. Wes Anderson, the creative force behind movies like The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, is known for his offbeat style and exploration of the more undesirable side of every-day human behavior. Whether it is writing about an eccentric oceanographer hellbent on finding the shark that ate his best friend or handcrafting a scene and all of its background elements, Anderson’s films come from a deep appreciation and respect for the human existence.
You would be hard-pressed to find one person in any of Anderson’s movies who is simply good or bad. That’s not to say that he paints a grey picture of morality. Anderson’s philosophy is fundamentally humanist: his characters are inherently good. However, they may not make the best of choices. None of them are victim to any truly debilitating psychological or neurological illnesses. At first glance, these characters are normal people. But pay close attention and you will notice what may have slipped under the radar. They cheat on their spouses, they put their family in danger to sate a midlife crisis, they antagonize their children, they treat their brothers like playthings, they’re megalomaniacal, suicidal, depressive, manic, obsessive, compulsive, and incredibly disorderly.
But they also love. In spite of all the bad decisions they have made, Anderson’s characters know what kind of people they have been. They make the effort to try and become the people they should have been.
That is what makes the work of Wes Anderson so beautiful. He doesn’t sugarcoat human nature, nor does he demonize it. He embraces it. The struggles that many of his dramatis personae endure hit close to home for his viewers, as well as his actors. Owen Wilson, a staple throughout Anderson’s films, persisted through his own bouts of depression and suicide attempts. Narratively this subject material is not nearly as dramatic or bombastic as a battle amongst nations or a thrilling adventure across exotic landscapes, yet it is far more gripping than any big budget action or drama flick to grace the box offices precisely because it is so subdued and emotionally muted.
Anderson does not shy away from such subjects. They are essential to who his characters are, where they come from, and what they’re going to do. It’s messy, there’s no denying that. One scene from The Royal Tenenbaums stands out in particular. Luke Wilson’s character, Richie Tenenbaum, attempts suicide by cutting himself and trying to bleed to death. It is beautifully and poignantly shot. Richie’s unmoving face as he drives the blade into his arms and the soft, somber blues that color the scene capture the essence of his depression. Having spent much of the movie relating to the Tenenbaum family and seeing their rise to and fall from greatness as they tear themselves from the inside out, you as the viewer want to grab a hold of the Tenenbaums and tell them what to do right.
But through all of their problems, these characters come to the right conclusion through the help of close friends and family. However, it is ultimately a self-realization and a drive to better oneself that effects any real development. Anderson offers a consistent message across his films: “It’s never too late or hopeless to make a change in your life.”
It is that message, I feel, that far too many people suffering from psychological illnesses and disorders never truly grasp. Something can be done. There are people in your life that care about you, whether or not you may realize it, but the effort needs to come from you. And conversely, try and pay closer attention to the people around you. Disorders like depression and OCD are battles being silently fought. But they do not have to be.
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