Wes Anderson, arguably the most vivid example of a modern auteur, has an instantly recognizable style, with vibrant color palettes, punctuated line delivery, and precise shot compositions. However, the themes he explores are equally important to this style, and each of his films to date has a deep melancholic undercurrent to it. Some of the most notable themes include parent-child relationships, the power of storytelling, and the resourcefulness inherent in the stories he tells.
However, the most fascinating thematic concept Anderson explores is the loss of innocence, whether on a social, cultural, or personal level. Indeed, this topic is imposing and adds depth to the previously mentioned topics. Most important of all, it can be said that it fully accounts for its aesthetics; He looks at the world through a storybook-like lens because that is how he tackles balancing idealism with the bittersweet realities of life.
Loss of innocence on a personal level
This theme is evidently most evident in the personal relationships of Wes Anderson’s characters, particularly in his earlier works. in Rushmore, protagonist Max Fisher buries himself in extracurricular activities at school and directs school plays because he finds it easier than facing his academic failure and possible expulsion from Rushmore Academy, knowing he can’t attend there forever. Therefore, he maintains his innocence when he knows that this is not a long time for this world. In addition, his romantic pursuit of teacher Rosemary Cross may be his way of processing his grief over his mother’s death and his need for a motherly, guiding figure in his life. On the other end of his emotional spectrum is the industrialist Hermann Blum, who is dealing with a midlife crisis, afraid he has wasted his life. Much of the movie revolves around finding emotional common ground with each other.
Loss of innocence also occurs in The Royal Tenenbaums, which focuses on the titular Royal Tenenbaum and his estranged relationship with his three children, Chaz, Margo, and Richie. All of them, as children, were prodigies—Chazz as a business genius, Margo as a playwright, and Richie as a tennis player—but none of them have been able to live up to that potential in adulthood, in part because of the unfair expectations Royale has on them. Consider Anderson’s deliberate use of costume design; All three of Tenenbaum’s siblings wear the same clothes that adults wore when they were children, and this visually demonstrates their stunted development. When their estranged father, who is likely to face death soon, returns to reconcile with them before his death, they are all forced to reconcile their disappointments in adulthood by coming to terms with the current state of their lives and forgiving their father.
Even Anderson’s most overtly kid-friendly films, Wonderful Mr. Foxexplore this idea. Mr. Fox, formerly a career criminal who made a living raiding plantations, struggles to come to terms with his newfound domesticated life, raising a child and working a day job to support his wife. Unwilling to accept his current reality, he clings to his past, sneaking away during the night to continue his raids in secret. Sadly, this double life proves unsustainable, and he’s forced to move his entire family away from the angry farmers he’s robbed. In the end, he too, reluctantly, makes peace with now having to live as a family man.
Loss of innocence at the societal level
Anderson’s other films, particularly his more recent works, grapple with the loss of innocence on a larger scale. This is most evident in Anderson’s masterpiece, Grand Budapest Hotel, which explores the lives of the hotel staff in the early 20th century at a European mountainside resort. Led by meticulous concierge M. Gustave, the hotel and its staff value kindness to their guests above all else; As he put it, “the most terrible and unattractive person just needs to be loved, and he will open like a flower.”
Evidenced in the story’s immediate background is the gradual rise of an unnamed fascist regime, and, in fact, they only really affect the story in its concluding chapters. When Budapest’s big boy lobby boy Zero, who is a refugee, is harassed by enemy soldiers, Gustav tries to fight them off, but he quickly drags him outside and is shot dead. Gustav’s death is symbolic of Europe’s loss of innocence due to the rise of fascism, and when we see the titular hotel years later, in the late 1960s, it is a grim shell-shock of its former ornate self.
This was similarly explored in French Dispatch, which forms an anthology format similar to that of an honorary newspaper. All of the individual stories in this film act as an ode to the writer and the power of the written word, but the film unfolds in an elegant way. Since the recent death of Arthur Hautzer Jr., the newspaper’s founder, the staff decided to publish one last issue before closing it permanently. Therefore, all the stories act as a window into a past world, where the idealism and hard work of the reporter shed light on the most important issues affecting the world and she did not have to respond to the demands of the company.
Filter loss through imagination
Not only is the loss of innocence the most recurring motif that Wes Anderson keeps returning to, but it’s also what shapes his entire filmmaking style. Think again Grand Budapest Hotel, how the film unfolds in a comic-like fashion. This allows the audience a more perfect time before the importance of kindness and civility is overshadowed by the rise of fascism.
And with his other films in particular Royal Tenenbaums And Wonderful Mr. FoxHowever, the way Anderson structures his work in such a way as to continually remind the viewer of his trick allows him to address deeper emotions in a more direct manner than they normally would. And most importantly, how clearly Anderson believes that filtering out these dark realities through the power of storytelling allows us to make sense of a perplexing world.