Wes Anderson

Everyone who has seen at least one Wes Anderson’s film would agree that the director’s style is very distinct. Anderson creates a stylish, cute world very alluring to observe and populates it with eccentric people. However, what fans find charming and arresting in a film, critics can argue the opposite. So Anderson’s film can be blamed for being visually repetitive and too quirky to be moving. Although Anderson has a set of methods, techniques and characters which make his films distinct and easy to recognize, these features should not be used to blame the filmmaker in going the same route because thus he creates a world of his own.

Anderson does not have a special film education. At school, he staged school plays and filmed home video. However, he participates in all stages of film production. Choosing soundtrack, costumes, setting the stage and picking a frame for a scene Anderson creates a distinctive look and feel to his films. Such deep immersion into the process can be explained by being “quite physically and socially awkward” and spending a lot of time on his own. Anderson is known for his love to details and all the scenes in his films are well-thought and thoroughly executed with a focus on minutiae.


Among his influences Anderson names grand directors like Federico Fellini, François Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Jean Renoir, and Luis Malle. Generally Anderson is enchanted with Europe and lives in Rome and Paris some time during the year. However, it is impossible to say that Anderson copies his influences. He managed to develop his own style which is so unique that in reviews his work is often referred to as “so deeply Wes Anderson” and “the most Wes Anderson-iest”. Critics sometimes refer cinematic style to “the New Sincerity” while his visual style has a moniker “hipsterism”. Even though Anderson is routinely added to various lists of categorized filmmakers he denies his affiliations with any groups.

All Anderson’s film scripts are written by him or he is one of the authors. Only Fantastic Mr. Fox is based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name. Thus, Anderson is able to recount his favorite themes more thoroughly. The topic of youth and young love is one of the central in his work. Rushmore centers around a student who was expelled from school, while Moonrise Kingdom is a story of two teenagers in love against the summer scout camp. Fantastic Mr. Fox refers primarily to the young audience.

Anderson’s films are famous for particular styling, interiors and costumes as well as frames and shots. Even though the filmmaker can use various methods of filming such as handheld camera or rapid zoom to suggest movement, overall Anderson has a tendency to well-thought mise-en-scène and symmetrical composition. The filmmaker has a penchant for card-like shots when the participants of the scene are lined up in front of the camera, like in Moonrise Kingdom when the protagonists waken up and zip up the tent and see the whole search party standing in a line on the shore looking in surprise at them. Through spatial configurations Anderson often points out personal relationships. In Moonrise Kingdom, the opening shots show all the children and parents each in their separate room. In The Royal Tenenbaums, Margo is shown in long shots to emphasize her distance from other members of her family.

What makes Anderson’s work particularly arresting is his love of artistic references and allusions. Often they do not carry any particular functions as being respectful homage to renowned filmmakers. For example, a fall scene in Tenenbaums and Rushmore resemble a corresponding scene in 1963 The Pink Panther by Blake Edwards. Also Anderson fills his films with literary references, especially when he wants to highlight the white privileged background of the protagonist. Both Tenenbaums and Rushmore refer to Albert Camus and Marcel Proust. Critics also point out similarities and references to Salinger in Rushmore and Tenenbaums; one of many is heavy eyelined eyes of Anderson’s female characters in Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom resembling ‘raccoon eyes’ of Franny from Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. In Moonrise Kingdom, the protagonist depicts his beloved girl clumsily climbing into the bathtub resembling French Impressionist August Renoire’s famous pastel drawings. Furthermore, Anderson has a playful relationship with his audience and plants meta-textual references in all his film. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou plays a backward version of Mothersbaugh’s “Scrapping and Yelling” later played in its original form in The Royal Tenenbaums. In some scenes of The Life Aquatic the protagonist wears the clothes spotted in Bottle Rocket.

For the creation of Anderson’s distinct style of an enclosed world filled with nostalgia and sincerity, music is crucial. In Tenenbaums, the sequence of Richie’s memories of Margot is accompanied “These Days” by Jackson Browne informing the sense of sadness and unexpressed love. In Moonrise Kingdom, the children listen to “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” by Benjamin Britten at the beginning of the film and it outlines the general structure of the story, while at the end, the school play “Noye’s Fludde” coincides with “the movie's tempestuous final act”. Music is so important for the feel of Anderson’s films that actors are usually instructed what music pieces will be present in the scene and even given samples to get in mood and better understand their characters.

Anderson said that his earliest creative piece of work was “a book of detailed drawings of fantasy houses”. It seems to contribute to his filmmaking style and Anderson’s interiors and settings are packed with details and resemble dollhouses with elaborate decorations and knickknacks. The Tenenbaum house as well as the trains carriage in Darjeeling has “minutely organized interiors;” in Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson reconstructed the interior of Roald Dahl’s abode. Such intense playfulness with set decorations has a continuation in color scheme. In Moonrise Kingdom, the color are muted like used to be in the 1960s and only the figure of Social Services, played by Tilda Swington, is ultramarine blue and felt like from another world. Whereas in Moonrise Kingdom, almost in every shot there is something bright yellow, in Tenenbaums, Chas’s track suit is tomato red and stands out in every shot.

However, there are many more characteristics to Anderson’s style which make him unique as well as repetitive. In his every film, Anderson likes to have bird-eye view shots of objects which signal that it is something important for the protagonist. The dialogues are succinct one-liners which often sound like philosophical questions. For example, in Moonrise Kingdom, Sam asks Suzy when he first meets her, “What kind of a bird are you?” referring to her stage costume but it sounds like an existential question. Childhood is shown as wise and mature while adults grapple with their feelings and issues. Family heads are often helpless and suffering from ennui whereas mothers are apt, active, and holding it all together. The final scenes are usually shot in slow motion when the protagonists run to each other or holding hands run together.

Anderson can be rebuked in repetitiveness and recycling the same techniques and themes. Indeed he has a set of favorite cinematic elements, frames, and shots that he occasionally reuses but it is always done in a slightly different way. So it is more a matter of taste and liking to see Anderson as a unique filmmaker with his own vision or a cliché-making hack who has settled on one style. In the long run, Anderson managed to create a world of his fantasy. And even if it is interesting to observe how filmmakers’ styles develop from film to film, it is not in the very least less interesting to plunge oneself into a fully formed and well-furnished world. The world is so complete that it is easy to imagine characters from one Anderson’s film roaming into the other film, so stylistically similar they are.

Related essays