Wes Anderson: A Directorial Analysis


Ruby Harris, Associate Editor

Wes Anderson has captivated audiences with his signature style for more than 20 years. With extreme color palettes, perfect symmetry, dry dialogue and and signature casting choices, Wes Anderson creates worlds that are almost always charming. 

While most directors try to inject many aspects of realism, and try to immerse viewers in a convincing and naturalistic world, Anderson sheds this idea that films must be real and completely abandons this concept altogether. When watching a Wes Anderson film there is absolutely no doubt that he is aware that the movie looks like a movie. There is no pressure on him to create a relatable and altruistic experience for viewers. His films are so self aware in that aspect. Almost all of his movies, (excluding Bottle Rocket) have barely any depth. And when depth is said it does not mean emotional depth, there is plenty of that. Wes Anderson has no trouble hiding that the background in his films are simply backgrounds. He uses 90 and 180 degree camera flips to show dialogue and movement, never angling any shot to where the background becomes integrated into the scene. The backgrounds are static and characters move on top of them, with intricate tracking shots that amaze audiences. And while the situations his characters are in can and do happen in real life, the setting and way they are shown takes the viewer out of reality completely. That’s not to say there are never circumstances where Anderson breaks this pattern. In almost every Wes Anderson movie you will find a moment, generally during the climax where this facade of perfection and self awareness fades away and the true emotions of the characters are revealed. Each movie is characteristically set up into chapters or parts. Every mode of storytelling Anderson uses makes the viewer hyper aware of the story that they are being immersed into. The Royal Tenenbaums set up as a book, with the screenplay written directly onto the pages, Moonrise Kingdom has a Narrator who explains the factual elements of New Penzance Island, the island where the movie is set, in order to alert the viewer of the coming danger retrospectively. The Grand Budapest Hotel is also set as a book where the author interviews the owner of the hotel 30 years after the events transpired. Rushmore  is chopped up into months with curtains to signify the end of the act, much like Max’s plays. All these movies are stories inside of stories that again make the movies aware of themselves adding extra complexity to Wes Anderson’s films.

Beyond the picture perfect symmetry and complex storytelling used in these films, Anderson also never hesitates to return to the same casting choices again and again. Such actors like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Angelica Huston, Adrien Brody, and of course the Wilson brothers, are almost guaranteed to show up in any film made by Anderson. And while these actors are beloved and definitely a staple to Anderson’s movies, they do not allow for much if any diversity. And when Anderson strays from the comfy New England settings, into a more eastern and foreign realm, the blatant “orientalism” is very apparent. Whether out of sheer misunderstanding or simply because he is a foreigner, Wes Anderson has been guilty of using Eastern countries, primarily India in the Darjeeling Limited and Japan in Isle of Dogs, simply as backdrops. Anderson inserts white, English speaking characters into these foreign settings for the purpose of the story, and while this is not at fault, how the country is used in the film is. In Isle of Dogs, almost every single line that is in Japanese is translated, either by a translator talking over it, or by subtitles. This could be attributed to Anderson’s vision that the viewer is seeing the movie through the dog’s eyes who speak English. But if this were the case, the language barrier could have been better executed if there was no translation at all. If he used the characters and setting appropriately, this mode of storytelling would have made much more of an impact on the story and made how Anderson told the story more apparent and less unsettling. To sum that up, Wes Anderson makes no effort to immerse the white foreigners into the country that is being used as the background. If you want to learn more about this idea, there is plenty more information in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rw0b4EXgtvs

Another iconic characteristic that Wes Anderson incorporates into his films is his writing. All of Anderson’s films are famous for the dry, deadpan delivery of the dialogue, accompanied by deep cuts of classic artists like Nico, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, Bob Dylan, etc. This effect immediately adds to the overall artsyness of these films. By reading the screenplays to many of his films, Wes Anderson’s style of writing becomes so clear. The dry nature of how the characters speak, mostly expressionless and lackluster, strip the typical nature of a film’s dialogue to the bones and re imagine it as a simpler and more apparent film. Anderson removes the frills that are commonly seen in movies in order to present a straight and direct story. Reducing the need for copious dialogue and replacing it with subtext and good acting. The way characters interact in a Wes Anderson film is almost identical in each movie you see. And whether it makes the movies better is up to interpretation, but it is undeniably evident that Anderson sees frilly language to be unimportant to the film as a whole. The other noticeable aspect to the screenplays are the themes. Tales of family dysfunction, grief, and self discovery fuel the movies and can really tie his cinematography together as a whole. In every film on of those themes is blatantly evident, for example The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, the Darjeeling Limited, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou see major plot points revolving around a dysfunctional family. While other films such as Rushmore, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox seem to adhere more to the self discovery aspect of Wes Anderson’s writing. And of course all those themes intermingle and have different appearances throughout each film and are not exclusive. 

In conclusion, Wes Anderson has crafted a significant and well rounded cinematography that can be easily characterized. Signature aspects like slow mo and tracking shots, color palettes, symmetry, intricate and wide models make a Wes Anderson film a Wes Anderson Film.

His work is well received and even though it can under perform in the box office, all his films receive critical acclaim at some point in their existence. Anderson has his flaws and definitely can make improvements, but his style and films will forever be recognized.