Every Time You Call Wes Anderson “Quirky”, God Kills a Kitten: A Cinematic Retrospective

I have been cruel to Wes Anderson on this blog, without really meaning to. At the time, I was annoyed at the Oscars, for being the wacky inflatable arm-waving tube-whore it is, and I made the point, repeatedly, that Wes Anderson was never going to get an Oscar. Hollywood enjoys Wes Anderson’s work but does not admire it.

  1. Comedies do not win Oscars.
  2. Animated films do not win Oscars.
  3. Wes Anderson’s crayon-scribbles do not win Oscars.
  4. No one gives a pile of moldy horse-flops about the Berlin Film Festival.
Variety Starts Telling Us What Movies We Should Care About Next Year – A Fisking“, Contentblues.com

I am, of course, right about Anderson’s ongoing denial of Oscar Gold. But calling his oeuvre “crayon-scribbles” was a bit harsh, especially as Anderson’s use of color is one of the things I enjoy about his work. Not one of the few things, I generally like his films and will watch them unprompted, for my own viewing pleasure, and not because my kids wanted to see it (The Super Mario Brothers Movie was definitely a Super Mario Brothers Movie). But I haven’t seen all of them, and I don’t like all of them, because I am not a “fan”, because “fandom” is mental illness.

So let’s talk about Wes Anderson movies, what they’re about, whether I like them, and what that means.

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Have I Seen It: Yes. Once. A girl I was dating at the time liked it. I was 20 in 1996. You do the math.

What It’s About: Crime is glamorized by morons who are bad at it.

Did I like it: I remember thinking it was pretty cool, but didn’t really feel the need to see it again. In retrospect, it’s 90’s as hell, but portraying criminality in a non-glamorous light was mildly gutsy in 1996.

What This Means: The Wilson Brothers will never not have work.

Rushmore (1998)

Have I Seen It: I started watching it and got bored. So, no.

What It’s About: Jason Schwarzman being insufferable for 90 minutes. Also, Remember Billy Murray U Guys?

Did I Like It: Apparently Not.

What This Means: I am not part of the crowd of AndersonHeads who worship the ground this movie was filmed on. But we knew that already.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Did I See It: Yes, I’ve watched it several times.

What It’s About: Family chaos and trauma, which is not abated but actually, exacerbated, by talent and worldly success. Only by uncovering and confronting painful truths can we survive.

Did I Like It: Of course I did. Everyone liked it. Even people who think Anderson’s a punchline now liked this one. It was fresh and it was raw and it was cool. Hell of a film for Gene Hackman to go out on.

What This Means: Wes Anderson will forever be the Quentin Tarantino of people who like reading Dostoyevsky.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Did I See It: Did anyone not?

What It’s About: Death. It’s about confronting Death and your helplessness in the face of it, and your inability to rectify your past. The past is fixed, the future ends, all you have is now.

Did I Like It: It’s probably my favorite. I liked it the first time I saw it, and the last time I watched it I was very moved.

What This Means: I am confronting my own mortality. Also, Bill Murray is a better actor than he is a meme.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Did I See it: Yes, Once.

What It’s About: Forgiving your family their trespasses against you, and recognizing they have insight into your character that you do not possess.

Did I Like It: It’s fine. If any of his movies deserve the criticism of “style over substance”, it’s this one. But it isn’t bad. I’d probably like it more if I watched it again, but I have no pressing urge to do so.

What This Means: Exoticism does not feed Anderson’s Muse.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Did I See it: No. Claymation and anthropomorphic animals are not a draw for me. Lots of people like it. I don’t care.

What It’s About: Western Man’s decadent inability to recognize heroism except in a format designed for children.

Did I Like It: I like not having seen it.

What This Means: People are going to tell me I should watch it. I will laugh at these people.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Did I See it: I tried. Got maybe half an hour in.

What It’s About: Storms and WASPiness.

Did I Like It: Nope.

What This Means: I no longer sit through movies just because Edward Norton is in them. To be fair, most people don’t, either.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Did I See it: Yes, after several failed attempts, falling asleep somewhere in the 2nd Act, I finally made it all the way through.

What It’s About: How Duty creates Loyalty, and how Loyalty goes both ways. Also, you should never fuck with a man’s lobby boy.

Did I Like It: I honestly have no idea. It’s somewhere around Darjeeling Limited in my appreciation, except I don’t think there’s anything to it I missed, so there’s even less impetus to revisit.


Isle of Dogs (2018)

Did I See it: No. See entry for Fantastic Mr. Fox.

What It’s About: Industrialism and Nature or something. Japan something something dogs blah blah blah.

Did I Like It: Dogs are superior to any media portrayal of them. Media portrayals of them are simulacra which rarely give insight.

What This Means: Wes Anderson is a Bad Weeb.

The French Dispatch (2021)

Did I See it: I almost didn’t, because the critical reaction was “Wes Anderson makes a Wes Anderson movie lol”. But I did.

What It’s About: The Romantic longing Americans of a certain kind felt for France during the 20th Century, which is here buried and mourned. The Joyful nexus of Literature and Journalism.

Did I Like It: I did, more than I was expecting to. I want to watch it again. I may Get Into this movie, as I sometimes do.

What This Means: I am an Atlanticist Snob, unredeemable and cursed to wear trench coats and fantasize about smoking Gauloises while writing Camusian philsophical treatises and Hemingwayan short fiction.

What it All Means. This entire exercise was prompted by this tweet:

I laughed, and in laughter I began to ponder my critical appreciation of his work. I found that, I like three of his movies to the point of rewatching them regularly, am ambivalent about two of them, disliked two so thoroughly I didn’t bother finishing, and have pointedly refused to see two more. This means that I am in no way a gushing Wes Anderson fanboy. Hence, I have the ethos to deliver the following statement:

Stop Calling His Films “Quirky” You Meme-Addled Midwits. His oeuvre works not on random lolishness but hyperrealism. It’s more than saturated colors and snap-zooms; he has a style that shifts reality without breaking it like a surrealist. You can observe a human story from a heightened perspective, enabling considerations of mundane human conditions from fresh angles. You know, like an artist. Some of his movies don’t work for me, like Rushmore, but they work for others. This doesn’t mean I am right and they are wrong. It means that his work flows in multiple directions, speaking to multiple audiences. This is good.

I would compare him to David Lynch, whose films are more surrealist, although not necessarily bereft of narrative. You can observe what’s happening in Eraserhead and Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, but you must accept that the structure isn’t going to work the way you expect. Reality will be broken in a Lynch film, and your brain must construct the meaning of it without help from the film itself. Wes Anderson doesn’t do that, he just eschews the most obvious ways of paying things off. Anderson creates Minor Tragedy, the tiny failures that accrue through modern life. The Catharsis is quiet, but it is there.


One thought on “Every Time You Call Wes Anderson “Quirky”, God Kills a Kitten: A Cinematic Retrospective

  1. Your statement that fandom is a mental illness is not far from the truth.
    Fandom is a stage of mental development. One usually out grows the need to be part of a group quickly in life. Its definitely a masculine trait, namely immature males. Its like being a liberal Democrat, noisy and bothersome until they get smacked upside the head with reality.
    I did like the Royal Tanenbaums as well. But I like quirky.


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