Elements of Anderson

Wes Anderson. Heard of him? Maybe Rushmore? The Royal Tenenbaums? 

Most recently, Anderson directed Moonrise Kingdom, out in theaters now. Or also likely, if you have seen Bill Murray act in anything since 2000 there is a 25% chance it was an Anderson film. 

Bill Murray in RushmoreBill Murray in The Royal TenenbaumsBill Murray in The Life Aquatic

Bill Murray in The Darjeeling LimitedBill Murray in The Fantastic Mr. FoxBill Murray in Moonrise Kingdom

Love him or hate him, Wes Anderson is undeniably working his way into the mainstream of American filmmaking today. His first movie, Bottle Rocket (1996) became a cult classic and by his second, Rushmore (1998), he began gathering critical acclaim. Since then his work has been anticipated by a growing fan base who trust him to deliver his quirky, stylized fantasy worlds and relatable and empathic (and often familiar) characters. 

Along with growing popularity however, comes increased critique. His movies (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom) tend to generate two responses - detached befuddlement or comprehensive appreciation. Devotees site Anderson’s unique and pervasive style as reason to like his work, while detractors describe it as schizophrenic and at worse self-parody. Let’s take a look at the deconstructed elements of Anderson’s style so you can decide for yourself if you’ve had or can’t get enough. 

Wes Anderson Bingo

It’s not just a mood and it’s not a theme that defines an Anderson film. In fact, as so creatively represented on this bingo card (see Slate Magazine to print out and play with your friends!) there are elements which exist in many if not all of his movies. Familiar props, costumes and music genres abound, as well as use of shots and design. Check out these similar screen shots all from different movies.

With the omniscient presence of overhead shots (check out this mashup!) and titled frames, Anderson’s films have something like a storybook feel to them. From the shots and narration to the impossibly detailed set designs, the viewer is pulled into a fantasy world entirely of Anderson’s own creation. Visually stunning, this style highlights the child-like imagination and fascination of his characters and offers a subtle and effective way to highlight their many idiosyncrasies, tiks, flaws and charms. His sets are meticulously decorated dollhouses. 

His films also employ very obvious color palettes, as summarized in the table below.

A set is just a set however, without the camera. Anderson’s stills draw attention to his shooting and editorial technique, also active, purposeful and unique. One method he often employs is the tracking shot on a dolly. The camera, rather than panning or zooming, actually moves along tracks from left to right or front and back.

This gives the viewer an unusual perspective, closer to wandering in and through the scene than to passive observation. Anderson pulls us through his world. These stills from The Life Aquatic and Moonrise Kingdom take us though cross-sectioned rooms of the house (or boat, rather). Follow the progression backwards out of the house and see how much you discover.

This perspective is also reminiscent of a theatre stage. It is not realistic, it is staged. This is totally intentional. What you can’t see from stills (you will have to WATCH THESE MOVIES!) is that the tracking shots often accompany long, uncut scenes with complicated dialouge and blocking. Like on stage. Unbroken takes where actors work through difficult texts and the audience can feel the tension and excitement as it is portrayed, directly.

He also draws us in with unnatural symmetry. 

Widely praised for these elements at the start, some wonder if (from The Life Aquatic forward) the stylization has become central at the cost of the actors and emotion. 

He once said in an interview with NPR ”I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets,” he says. “There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision: I’m going to write in my own handwriting. That’s just sort of my way.”

Much has been written more about Anderson, his style, his music, and most interesting his creative collaboration with Owen Wilson (see also this Slate article), and use of an ensamble cast including Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Kumar Pallana and more (see the Wiki table here).

So if you are a fan, you can look forward to his next project and eighth movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which has approached and signed on a bucket list of stars including the one and only Mr. Johnny Depp

What do you think? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.

P.S. During the preparation of this blog, I amassed a huge collection of great shots highlighting Anderson’s style and design. I can’t include it all, but head over to our Pinterest page where I stuck some of the great ones up on a new board.


- Christy from your SynopsiTV team

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