Into the Dollhouse: How Wes Anderson Creates a Story

When one watches a film, they cannot help but reserve a few expectations on what is to transpire in the next two hours or so. From the first glimpse of a spoon-feeding trailer to the ending credits with their complementary ending scores, most generally know what to expect from the average Hollywood production. While potentially entertaining as pastiches to previous flicks, this leaves the audience at times complacent to the visuals, despite innovative shots and effects. Wes Anderson triumphs in this category where others falter, with an eclectic approach of subversion from standard film, demonstrating a mastery of La Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) all the while adding his own style into a craft of character and story design unparalleled.

If you would describe yourself to be a novice in the world of Anderson films, do not fret. His style of filming may seem at first to be spacey dialogue with muddled story development and obsessively symmetrical camera shots. When you watch his films, you must understand the difference between show and tell in film. His films show you a story like any other film would, but without the hinting gestures of what to think and feel, free for your interpretation. This style is influenced heavily by the French New Wave from post World War II France, where many directors and writers simply changed the way a story was filmed, focusing on innovation of script instead of effects, as many films were of lower budget. Directors like François Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard, and Alain Resnais pioneered this new style of film in opposition to oversimplified film paradigms that dominated the theaters at the time. Details in camera shots (long track shots), longer shots, spontaneous nature of characters, and the underlying foundation of the iconoclastic characters fighting against the status quo, revolutionaries of their time, heroes to future generations to come.

Characters used in his film follow this french-style trend, whether is their clothing aesthetics (evidence of influence from french style in 60’s), postures, the very energy they emit in front of the camera. This is but a few of why many of his films are so tightly casted. Anderson imagines every aspect of his film out to the finest detail, an intricate set of blueprints behind every story, utilizing specific actresses/actors that mesh with his flow of covering adult themes in a signature fashion, a way that often leaves the most seasoned film geeks vulnerable. He casts incredibly well, as each of his film shows exceptional dialogue unphasable and often challenging to keep up with.

Each story follows a dualistic coming of age plot, with central characters generally father and son, or the death of a father, with them figuring out their lives to find the answer to their own happiness. Male characters are usually flawed in personality, but quite charismatic, bringing together a cast or crew around them, often unintentionally. Female characters are generally only involved in a romantic subplot, or to come to the aid as omnipotent yet calm and collective advisers to help the slow-witted dissonants make it through their arc of difficulties. Dialogue is fast paced and eccentric, with moments of spontaneous bursts of emotion, probing a desperate attempt at self preservation as a vital part of the plot.

The cinematography in Anderson’s films is an example of combining multiple styles that makes up his craft. While maintaining a symmetrical framework that would leave Jacobo de Barbari feeling stiff, Anderson depicts stories in settings of both familiarity and personal preference in aesthetic. Not only does he film in places he in personally familiar with (such as Rushmore being filmed at his original high school) he maps out every detail of the stories context, specifically buildings or living quarters as a dollhouse, with detailed cutout views of every rooms and purpose in the plot’s vessel. This is evident in most of his films, from mapping out the plans to breaking into the farm in Fantastic Mr. Fox to blueprint to the submarine Belafonte in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Anderson, the auteur, controls every aspect of the setting, keeping shots in perfect symmetry of objects in the shot, deliberate in every angle.

The filming style is more evidence of influence from French New Wave style, his films using the same style of shots: episodic breakdown of plot (used in Tarantino films as well), heavy tracking shots, non-diegetically sequences of rather dark events, shots from above the characters head, symmetrical title sequences, and five piece color palettes with each scene. The usage of contrasting foreground and background to foreshadow alienation of the youth from their oppressors (most evident in Moonrise Kingdom) This symmetrical rhythm is evident in the cast generally wearing uniforms or similar clothes.

The music, or absence of music utilized is tobe taken note of as well. Considering myself to be a rather musically inclined individual, its interesting to see how Anderson grabs from an incredibly diverse array of themes and background fillers to propel the story in ways even the most intense of films today could not even fathom. Whether it’s tracks from Latin rhythms, masterpieces from the works of The Who or classical craftsmen, Anderson excels in not simply filling the silence of montages with popular anthems but specific hymns that could only come from the soul, destined solely for the purpose of complementing their character attached to their scene. This skill is evident in few directors even today, such Refn or Scorcese, an essential part of mapping any story.

When Wes Anderson presents a story, he does so in a fully mapped and detailed setting with characters intricate yet self absorbed, incapable of reaching any progress in theory of mind to feel for the emotions of others, presenting rough themes of depressing nature in a pretty nonchalant manner. He succeeds in showing us reality as awkward, bittersweet. But this is what is meant to be captivated the most in his films, he forces us to watch a story that is witty, quirky, cathartic and philosophical, yet not to be taken so seriously, These stories present people coming to terms with their existence in their own way, with the weight of those burdens for them to bear alone.

These personas are the dreamers, idealists and philosophical romantics that live inside Anderson, driven solely by their ambitions and ideals, forever to be misunderstood by the inhibitions of the institutional society around them. Rebels of their existence, let their triumphs and faults inspire you. So next time you put on an Anderson film, clear your mind, let your inner rebel release, and immerse yourself in the dollhouse.

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