By Anthony Sennett
There’s more than meets the eye, but the view is enough to fall in love with. This is how I feel about Wes Anderson’s films. The 48 year old Houston native is already one of the most iconic directors to have ever lived. His style is so distinct, and it’s constantly discussed and compared to those he’s influenced. With his ninth film ‘Isle of Dogs’ receiving a nationwide release on April 13th, it seems fitting to look back at how this man has become such an infamous figure in modern cinema.
Looking back, I see three phases of his progression as an artist. The first phase of his career contained films that already truly had the essence of what made Wes special. They were a great introduction to this director since the settings were within un-idealistic worlds, making them more accessible while elevating how quirky the stories were. His filmography begins in 1994 with his short film ‘Bottle Rocket,’ which expanded into his 1996 debut with the same title. It follows Anthony, recently out of a mental hospital, teaming up with his buddy Dignan to go on a wild crime spree. This charming work has grown on me with every watch, and the emotional connection between the two friends is so compelling. It’s so odd to know that people responded so poorly to this movie initially, even walking out of showings. Thankfully, this did not discouraged Wes as he went on to make my personal favorite work of his, ‘Rushmore.’ It is named after the school Max, the fifteen year old protagonist, loves so dearly. This film is a fascinating study of three main characters within multiple phases of life and what each of them values. It is also the first work showcasing the best director-actor combination ever, Bill Murray and Wes Anderson. However, unlike most other directors, Wes doesn’t just continually use one actor. Instead, he basically uses a world of brilliantly familiar faces.
This universe truly begins to take shape with his third project, ‘The Royal Tenenbaums.’ This is arguably Wes’ most beloved film, and it contains arguably his most iconic character, Margot. In this movie, a father tries to reconnect with his wife and three children. What I find so intriguing is how Wes can take a fairly run of the mill premise and turn it into a spectacular and unique work of art. The characters are all fascinating in their own distinct way. In this film, he starts to be more free with the way he tells his stories and begins to truly let go of restrictions reality placed on him. Thus, Tenenbaums was the beginning of the second phase of his art, followed by ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’ and ‘The Darjeeling Limited.’ Life Aquatic is the first film that really gives us the impractibly stylistic art Wes is known for. Steve Zissou is a washed out oceanographer, setting out for a new, crazy voyage. Wes had his largest budget on this film, fifty million, and it didn’t come close to making a profit. Critically, it was his worst received film. Despite all this, the film feels like a triumph. This crazy journey somehow manages to be endearing, despite being surrounded by dark scenarios and a fairly unlikeable protagonist. I have a ton of love for this red beanie infested movie, and I always feel better after watching it. A few years later, Wes released his most overlooked work, ‘The Darjeeling Limited.’ People refer to it as his oddest film, for better or for worse. I personally find it refreshing, seeing as it’s a nice switch up for the director without losing the essence of what makes him him. The film follows the reunion of three brothers on a mysterious train ride through India. While the storyline sometimes does lose its momentum, it never fully derails. Wes really knows how to showcase a compelling relationship, and the one between these brothers is just another example. There are many unexplained moments in the film, but they never feel frustrating or poorly wrapped up.
A mere two years after Darjeeling, Wes returned to the big screen rejuvenated and as stunning as ever. He continued what is known as his signature style with ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox.’ It is fitting that his full fledge storybook era began with a children’s book adaptation. The animation style is wonderfully one of a kind, and the odd facial and hair movements are beautiful. Sharing the same plot as the Road Dahl source material, Mr. Fox is a father who sets of a troublesome chain of events when messing with the three meanest farmers’ stocks. I can completely understand why an unexpectedly large amount of people consider this their favorite film. Three years later, Wes Anderson created the most Wes Anderson movie of all, ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’ This story is placed amidst a picture perfect island, filled with adorable architecture and dysfunctional dwellers. It’s about very young love between a ‘troubled child’ and a Khaki Scout. The way this story unravels is an endless joy to witness. This was the first film I watched consciously knowing of Wes, and I think it was a brilliant introduction. Something about this film feels so comforting, and I’ve grown so attached to the strange little place. After impressing us all with said work of art, Wes went on to release his most critically and commercially successful work to date, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel.’ This film is legendary. It follows the life of Zero, a lobby boy at said establishment. Two love stories are told in this film: one of love and one of friendship. It balances these themes with a nonstop crime story that only Wes could pull off. Just like Moonrise, Grand Budapest is embellished with fascinating characters and wild scenarios. If this film is paused at any moment during its run time, the shot displayed would be perfect enough to be on the poster. Also, it makes me so happy to finally (finally) see a leader character in a Wes film that isn’t white.
Finally, we come to Wes’ brand new installation in his mind blowing catalog, ‘Isle of Dogs.’ This film blew me away. I had no idea what to expect, since I avoid trailers at all costs, but I knew it would be as brilliant as it turned out to be. Taking place in Megasaki City, the city is experiencing an epidemic of the dog flu. In order to suppress the disease, they deport all dogs to Trash Island. The movie only gets better from here. Intentional or not, this was released at the perfect time. Along with the March For Our Lives, Isle of Dogs showcased youth protesting for a just cause. Beyond this, it also tackles immigration, political corruption, and simply gives us a gorgeous tale of the connection between dogs and humans.
While the whole ‘look into the mind of an animal’ storyline might feel overdone at this point, Wes brings such a unique perspective. One thing I was not expecting was how important and awe-inspiring the lighting in this film was. I’ve never seen Mr. Anderson make this such a prominent aspect of his work. Of course, all the lighting choices compliment the absolutely brilliant animation, and it is definitely apparent that there have been quality improvements since Fantastic Mr. Fox. Rarely do we get to see non-computer animated films, so this was truly refreshing. Every setting, even on the dismal and lifeless Trash Island, was stunning. Most notably, on the topic of animation, they used wonderfully creative ways to animate explosions and fights. Little things about this film were smile inducing for me from a filmmaking standpoint, from the way the animation changed when showing images on tv to the credits and to the endlessly wonderful shot compositions and finally, the storyline. Wes managed to avoid the precise and oddly formulated structure many adventure films fall victim to, giving us an unpredictable journey that was gripping all the way through. Thankfully, seeing as it was a huge component of this movie, the way this movie dealt with language barriers was very extremely well done, almost becoming a character itself.
Along with the new young actor Koyu Rankin, who played the lead human, Atari, this cast is a complete dream. Bryan Cranston, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Yoko Ono, Frances McDormand, a politically charged blond afro stunting Greta Gerwig, and of course, the omnipresent Anderson staple Bill Murray voiced for this film alongside even more talented greats. The characters are as distinct and memorable as ever and widen the ever growing Wes universe. This is one of the few films of his that takes place in a not predominantly white setting. I, personally, do not know much about Japanese culture. Due to this, I would not be a good judge of if this movie was culturally insensitive, so even though I wasn’t offended, my voice in this does not matter. Either way, this film was focused much less on the culture and more on, you guessed it, the issue of the dogs. There isn’t a second of this film that is wasted, and I would recommend it to everyone.
If I haven’t made it clear enough at this point, Wes is magic. The growth he’s shown artistically is fascinating, and he evolves with every new film. It is so evident in his work that he is passionate and focused, and that’s always a pleasure to see. On a personal level, my favorites of his are ‘Rushmore,’ ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel.’ Hopefully all of you have or will see at least one of his films. Polarizing as he may be, it’s hard not to love this man.