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The Fascinatingly Small Worlds in Wes Anderson Films

By David Young · December 5, 2022

The Fascinatingly Small Worlds in Wes Anderson Films_featured

Every frame in Wes Anderson films is like a meticulously crafted work of art on screen. His unique eye for grandiose, symmetrical compositions and mise-en-scène is probably his most talked-about trademark. But that’s not all he does.

Wes Anderson films showcase a pervading curiosity about different social structures: the prep school in Rushmore, the New Penzance Khaki Scouts of Moonrise Kingdom, or even the farming neighbors in Fantastic Mr. Fox. Each story that Anderson develops focuses on a keen aspect of a specific society — and that small world is encapsulated perfectly within his camera.

If you’re curious how each Wes Anderson film does this, and how each insight informs his own brand of visual charm on the big screen, have a look at the examples below.

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Bottle Rocket (1996)

Ever wonder why some people go through with their hare-brained schemes? Have you ever wondered what a friend of theirs must be going through to go along with such a scheme? You’re not the only one.

It’s Bottle Rocket that does its own patented deep dive into the heart of this issue, exploring undiagnosed issues of various degrees. Be it criminal mania, exhaustion, depression, or love itself, each issue proves dangerous enough to make people do stupid things — a genuinely eye-opening theme that fits every minute of this 1996 crime comedy.

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Rushmore (1998)

Life is already complicated enough as an adult. When you’re a kid, though, you’re more emotionally immature, so those complications feel more ridiculous and more intense. But what if the adults are just as immature? What if those complications just keep building and making things more intense? Well, in that case, you might be attending Rushmore Academy.

Teenager Max Fischer has gone through a lot, from being on academic thin ice to falling for a teacher — all at Rushmore. But it’s also the microcosm of Rushmore that feels intensely affected by Max’s actions, to the point where many are either for or against him being present at all.

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The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

We’ve said it before: There’s no social structure quite like a family. There’s also no family like the Tenenbaums. Their dysfunction seemingly knows no bounds, even in the shadows of prodigal success. Everyone in the family has achieved something impressive, only to leave more of a mess in their wake as their family reaches delinquent levels of oddity.

If you’re looking to get the truth of how absurd family can be, this film is for you. If you’re looking for someone to top that reality, this film is also for you. Wes Anderson likes his movies to feature strange people making strange situations for themselves, and The Royal Tenenbaums tops that list.

Read More: The Royal Tenenbaums: Despite It All, Wes Anderson Is A Writer

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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

This Wes Anderson staple has garnered a cult following of its own for its keen focus on a simple fact about people: the weight of expectations. Whether it’s a pregnancy, the search for an absentee father, or the seemingly self-deluded hunt for the “legendary” jaguar shark, expectations can motivate and devastate alike.

It’s these expectations — and the much-anticipated subversions thereof — that turn an adventure like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou into an absurd classic.

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The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Family is one of those social structures that is sometimes inscrutable. That’s the case, at least, for Peter, Francis, and Jack Whitman, three brothers who are struggling to reconcile on a transnational trek across India. There’s nothing like the heat that can arise between brothers, after all.

These men have to let off their own long-building steam as they attempt to connect and gain spiritual growth all in one grueling trip. More than all that, though, they learn how to deal with the baggage of their father’s recent death — quite literally, as well as metaphorically.

Read More: Top 10 Wes Anderson Films (Features and Shorts)

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Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Animals are known for living in the present — but societies always have a history, and so does Mr. Fox. When he succumbs to social pressures, it’s due to factors we all encounter: safety for our families, longing for youth, and even good old-fashioned hubris.

Mr. Fox ruins things with the farmers nearby, causing him and his fellow animals to be driven underground. Every story consists of cause and effect, but Fantastic Mr. Fox does this in a social context, creating a very human effect in the characters that can’t be overstated.

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

There’s something unique about the connections you make with a pen pal. This person is a world apart from what you’re used to — and as a kid, that sense of separation is even more impactful. For Sam and Suzy, it’s how they put together a romantic escape where each of them leaves their summer lodgings to be together.

Of course, the disappearances of these children make waves, with scoutmasters, local police, and even Social Services stepping in to find the kids and put them back in their places. It’s a love story for sure, but it’s also Anderson’s fascinating look at how kids are seen within different social dynamics.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

This is the secondhand story of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a prestigious place where a concierge named Gustave becomes a suspect of foul play when his lover, Madame D., dies mysteriously. It’s this event that sets everything else in motion as she posthumously leaves Gustave in the custody of a priceless painting. Soon, the world built by those staying and working in the hotel comes crumbling down, expanding to include prison, war, and more than enough pastries.

But the movie always anchors itself in the people of the hotel, which is even visually separated from the rest of the world. In the good times and the chaotic ones, the Grand Budapest Hotel (whether as a distinct memory or in its former glory) remains home to the story — and home to Zero.

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Isle of Dogs (2018)

One of the more absurdist comedies of Wes Anderson’s is Isle of Dogs, where the world in question is full of abandoned dogs stranded on a place aptly called Trash Island. Yet another fixture in his collection of stop-motion work, this film shows how the dogs have formed a society of their own, which a young boy must navigate to get to his old companion, Spots.

A combination of buddy film tradition and poetic sci-fi, Isle of Dogs focuses on themes like discrimination, friendship, and political rivalry to create a world unlike anything else you’ve ever seen on the big screen.

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The French Dispatch (2020)

More of an anthology piece than a single narrative, The French Dispatch explores a few small worlds, a few social situations that each have their own players and effects. The result includes the passionate pursuit of art, wanton gang violence, and romantic revolutionaries.

Each new scenario in The French Dispatch uses its social situations and the high stakes surrounding each one in tandem to experiment with keen symbolism.

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You can’t ignore how Wes Anderson does his work. With every meticulous scene composition comes the notion that the people in it are very askew. The visuals may be pristine, but his characters express the ridiculous lack of normalcy that humans have within. It’s through his films that we see a distinct social fascination from Wes Anderson — and a desire to see those social structures for what they really mean.

Read these Wes Anderson films front to back, and pick them apart to learn more about the way he sees people in each of these little worlds!

Read More: 6 Writing Tips from Wes Anderson

Scripts from this Article