—Before we begin, I must apologise in advance if I seem bipolar in my discussion. It is not my fault. This film broke my heart, and I will never forgive it—
𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘙𝘰𝘺𝘢𝘭 𝘛𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘯𝘣𝘢𝘶𝘮𝘴 (𝟸𝟶𝟶𝟷) is a film which hit me so hard to the core, I shaved my head shortly after first watching it. That is no word of a lie. I don’t believe the film holds any qualities which transcend the cinematic medium and should resonate with each and every one of you, but its embarkment through the torturous world of childish hyper-loneliness, for one reason or another, tattooed itself onto my arm next to the heart on my sleeve.
Wes Anderson films are possibly the most easily identifiable films within the medium, but his eccentric style of colourful, childish sophistication is widely criticised as ‘dollhouse’ and ‘on-the-nose.’ And to an extent, I agree with the criticism. When deconstructed, his films can seem like imitations of each-other, the oppositional qualities usually being plot points rather than themes and stylistic elements. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good, or sometimes great, which is the case with 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘙𝘰𝘺𝘢𝘭 𝘛𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘯𝘣𝘢𝘶𝘮𝘴.
The film follows the Tenenbaum siblings Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson) and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), three geniuses who over the years have separated from each other’s lives. After their father, Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) (who also left years before), announces he is dying, the members decide to reunite and see him out. But with the re-establishment of the family comes the deep-seated issues that have plagued them over the years.
The film is part of Anderson’s classic algorithm: intelligent people tortured by their own intelligence; the torture becomes a lifestyle; loneliness ensues. The characters in 𝘛𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘯𝘣𝘢𝘶𝘮𝘴 are all very aware of the loneliness they’ve brought upon themselves, and in their accompanied depression have decided to deny and disperse from each other. The conventions of life have become chores, things they do to mask the dismay of their hyper-awareness. It’s because of this emotional plateau that when genuine emotion is presented—such as Richie and Margot’s train station reunion—its authenticity is so off-kilter it’s sincerely heartbreaking. Anderson’s preference for a straight face amidst turmoil makes the moments of passion so endearing that it relinquishes the need for overtly dramatic scenes to poke at our heartstrings.
Throughout the film, the themes of secrecy and loneliness are executed so romantically that there’s a level of jealousy toward their eternal weight. These people have dealt with their internal issues so extravagantly, so exuberantly, that the existence of their convictions is almost charming. Yet whilst Anderson’s outlandish portrayal of the blues may seem desirable, he doesn’t shy away from elaborating on how juvenile their self-pity is.
When Margot explains to her husband Raleigh (Bill Murray) that she may never come home, he delivers the line “well I wanna die!” with such genuine infantility that his suicidal comment is comical. Similarly, Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) religiously sends articles written about himself to Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Huston), desperately seeking motherly attention and encouragement whilst he denies a drug addiction. Richie lives alone on a boat after throwing a tantrum when learning Margot has married another man, and Margot’s promiscuity hides her fear of writer’s block. The tremendous lengths each character will travel to mask the dilemmas that haunt them is a child-like approach to vulnerability, and it’s through this that Anderson’s trademark of bipolar sophistication is so perfectly accentuated. With their intelligence comes a lack of social grace, and with that distinction they swing like a metronome.
The further I descend into the la-de-da of film analysis, the more critical I am of the director who invigorated my initial interest. There was a time where I would read Anderson’s scripts on a weekly basis, and 𝘛𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘯𝘣𝘢𝘶𝘮𝘴 held #1 spot on my ‘top 10 films’ list for many moons. But with diversity comes reality, and I’m more than aware of the Anderson cliché. However, credit is made where credit is due, and 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘙𝘰𝘺𝘢𝘭 𝘛𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘯𝘣𝘢𝘶𝘮𝘴 resonates with me time and time again.
It is an incredible film which summarises a completely individual style, built entirely inside a world that is so well developed it must truly exist, just not to you or me. When I watch 𝘙𝘰𝘺𝘢𝘭 𝘛𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘯𝘣𝘢𝘶𝘮𝘴 (𝟸𝟶𝟶𝟷), I feel like I’m in a loving relationship, because as soon as the credits roll, I feel my heart breaking. And when I wallow and drown in the banks of self-pity, I begin to understand what the film is telling me:
Without love, we are devoid of meaning.