Something that differentiates cinema from almost any other form of art is its relative youth. A statement declaring a piece of art to be “The best ____ ever made” often serves purely as a figurative statement – after all, how could someone possibly have that frame of reference? Well, the interesting thing with films is, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for someone to have seen the vast majority of produced films in existence. That person can easily proclaim his or her favorite film is the best film of all time and have some validity.
What the average modern viewer can see today is truly remarkable; without much difficulty, the entire history of cinema can be witnessed. Films have, of course, developed significantly more quickly into modern pieces of complicated art or simple crowd pleasers than one would find if the history of writing stories was examined. Quite simply, the great filmmakers that exist today are the great filmmakers who will likely be remembered through the ages. Anyone’s favorite director today could be the equivalent of the Billy Wilder of our time. The difference between cinema and the previously existing forms of art and entertainment is that film’s youth has caused those voices which stick out to be unique.
By far one of the most unique voices in cinema is Wes Anderson. Anderson is the writer/director of such unforgettable films as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and his most recent Moonrise Kingdom. With the exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox, all of his films represent original stories that absolutely exude an original style and creativity unmatched in a genre he has created of his own films. They are not simply quirk, but are stylized representations of flawed people. Depth is all over in the films once they are given a chance to prove themselves.
Anderson’s protagonists all possess nearly as many unsympathetic qualities as sympathetic ones, yet this is what famous characters throughout history have always exhibited. Would characters such as Hamlet or Victor Frankenstein be what they are today if their flaws didn’t (at times) outnumber their strengths? Anderson has a fine understanding of the uncomfortable positions smart people push themselves into and each of his films represents flawed, but not fundamentally stolid or evil characters trying to achieve some sort of happiness. Max Fischer was happy at Rushmore Academy, now he wants love. Royal Tenenbaum was broke and needed somewhere to stay, but learned he actually did want to get to know his family. Steve Zissou lost his best friend and has a failing career, but a chance at redemption may lie in his supposed son, Ned. And so on.
The depth seen through Wes Anderson’s films is sometimes overshadowed by his dry sense of humor. Anderson does not merely want us to witness these characters in moments of weakness, he understands that it is important to enjoy the ride. He welcomes us to laugh when his characters are deluded or act selfishly. Flaws are funny as well as tragic. That’s the magic balance his films pull off – emotion on all ends of the spectrum. The films often go to dark places, but never stay dark because the characters are in a dark place but like to pretend things are fine. And the films are more than fine, they are a classic example of a master filmmaker at work.
It is difficult to judge the effect modern cinema will have on the future, but this reporter suggests it will be comparable to the effect F. Scott Fitzgerald had on the novel and future generations of writers. Fitzgerald is most known for his 1925 opus, The Great Gatsby, which is often read in schools to this day. His other works include This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned, and his unfinished novel The Love of the Last Tycoon. Like Wes Anderson, Fitzgerald often wrote about flawed characters in positions of wealth dealing with the promises of youth and the harsher realities of the world and age.
Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s most well known character was born a poor farm boy who amasses great wealth to win back a girl he fell for in his youth who is now married to a well to do societal man. The obvious parallel here would be to Max Fischer, who is a poor boy who dreams of fame through plays and building aquariums to win the heart of a new teacher at Rushmore Academy, only he’s fifteen and she isn’t interested in a relationship with him. Failed love is a recurring theme throughout Anderson and Fitzgerald’s work – coming up in nearly everything either man produced.
The wealthy living empty lives that are inhabited by dreams of great success or recognition for actions that no longer are relevant comes up as well. Fitzgerald’s characters tend to be somewhat more self aware of their actions, whereas Anderson’s are happy living in certain delusions that make life easier. In the end, the point is not that Anderson and Fitzgerald share the same concepts and mean to express the same message with their careers, but rather both exhibited a style that had never quite existed before and will continue to inspire for generations to come. Fitzgerald also created a stylistic world where characters live in a world that is created by their own desires and idealistic motives. Selfishness is just as common as lighthearted scenes where tension is never common beyond the simple suspense of daily conflicts that characters bring upon themselves. At times, this is more extreme than others, but emotion and style were married in a way that had never been achieved before and inspiration was the encore.
J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, directly expressed inspiration from Fitzgerald. After Salinger’s death, Wes Anderson commented, “I remembered this passage from the F. Scott Fitzgerald story The Freshest Boy:
‘He had contributed to the events by which another boy was saved from the army of the bitter, the selfish, the neurasthenic and the unhappy. It isn’t given to us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world. They will not be cured by our most efficacious drugs or slain with our sharpest swords.’ – and it occurred to me that more than everything else—more than all the things in his stories that I have been inspired by and imitated and stolen to the best of my abilities—THIS describes my experience of the works of J. D. Salinger.”
Certain artists will always fly higher than the rest. Not all art is the ambiguous genius in the vein of Kubrick or Malick. Sometimes the lighter side of quality gets overlooked, but unique voices will always make their mark in the arts. Fitzgerald revolutionized the kind of lighter stylistic yet still emotional storytelling that would pave the way for novels like Catcher in the Rye. This path was started in film decades before Anderson’s debut, though no filmmaker fully embraced and lived the concept in a way that is quite as revolutionary on its own. Wes Anderson serves as a Fitzgerald to the modern world of cinema and will no doubt continue to pave the way for future artists to embrace their own unique take on storytelling.
In the climax of The Life Aquatic, Steve Zissou watches the shark that ate his friend and wonders (before breaking into tears): “I wonder if it remembers me.” Unique voices will always be remembered; no doubt the masses have a better memory than the Jaguar Shark.
1. Hamilton, Ian (1988), In Search of J. D. Salinger
2. Brody, Richard (2010), Wes Anderson on JD Salinger