Life lessons from Wes Anderson’s most memorable characters
Art imitating life
From an oceanographer in a red beanie to a chain-smoking former child-prodigy, Wes Anderson's oddball characters have sparkled across the silver screen for more than twenty years. The legendary auteur, whose birthday falls on 1 May, has developed a distinct artistic quality - a whimsical style of storytelling that sees its protagonists go on outlandish adventures through worlds rendered in grainy pastel hues.
Rather than narrowing the world down into a rigid set of clichés, Wes Anderson's narratives explore the depths and ambiguity of human nature. He smashes open stereotypes to make a space for the layers in between; illuminating real and raw stories of unrequited love, broken families, mental illness and those living on the edges of society, baulking at conventional life.
In doing so he makes the audience consider life in an abstract way, excavating profound truths, hidden within us by centuries of normalised habits and imitation. What follows is an introduction to Wes Anderson's most profound characters and the relatable life lessons they bring to the table.
Steve Zissou, The Life Aquatic
The loveable Bill Murray plays oceanographer Steve Zissou, a man on a mission to exact revenge on a mythical shark that killed his long-time sea-mate, Estaben. He rallies a crew that includes his estranged wife, a journalist, and a man who may or may not be his son.
What we can learn from Steve Zissou: He is a man drowning in a mid-life crisis, overcome by loss and all of a sudden thurst into a situation his not emotionally equipped to deal with. His fragile state bubbles to the surface in the form of defensive displays of insecurity and the great lengths he goes to appear in control of his life. Ultimately we learn that 'project managing' your way out of grief and loss will only get you so far. You are better off shredding your outer layer of ego, embracing vulnerability and diving into the wave.
Suzy Bishop, Moonrise Kingdom
Described as an 'eccentric, pubescent love story', Moonrise Kingdom sees two 12 year olds - Randy Ward and Suzy Bishop - meet on a summer campsite and carry out a plot to run away together in the wilderness. During their escapade, their relationship blossoms into romance.
What we can learn from Suzy Bishop: Oscillating between head-in-a-book introversion and blind, near-psychotic fits of rage, Suzy Bishop is a 'Lost Girl' of sorts, at a confusing, hormone fuelled crossroads between childhood and adulthood. At times, she handles this tension with grace and at other times with untoward violence, but most importantly, she doesn't wait for her adulthood to arrive at her doorstep, she goes out and grabs it - and embraces the ride with anger, frustration, hope, and tenacity. The stuff of real heroes.
M. Gustave, The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the adventures of M. Gustave, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
What we can learn from M. Gustave: Played to perfection by Ralph Fiennes, M. Gustave is brash, zany, cursing, genteel, poetry-reading and openly bisexual. In all his outlandish individuality, shows us its more than ok to be a walking, gender fluid contradiction. Gustave is also a big-hearted guy. He's a wellspring of generosity-just check out his speeches about how "the most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower." It's not that he's just doing his job; he really believes that manners and hospitality will bring forth the goodness from all mankind.
Margot Tenenbaum, The Royal Tenenbaums
An estranged family of former child prodigies reunites when their father announces he is terminally ill. Margot, who was adopted by the Tenenbaums, was awarded a grant for a play that she wrote in the ninth grade.
What we can learn from Margot Tenenbaum: Draped in fur and thick black eye-liner, with a dry buried wit and a resting bitch face that would make hell freeze over, Margot is the only Anderson woman that we could conceivably see as a lead in her own right. A chain-smoker with various neuroses who confesses to not speaking or smiling often, Margot truly embodies the secret art of not giving a fuck.
Peter Whitman, The Darjeeling Limited
A year after their father's funeral, three brothers - Jack, Peter and Francis - travel across India by train to bond with each other. They each bring their own set of neuroses and personal dilemmas. Peter, whose wife is pregnant, is going through an existential crisis about his impending role as a father.
What we can learn from Peter Whitman: Peter cannot let go of his father's image, figuratively and literally (he continually wears his glasses to try and see the world through his image). As the boys attempt to heal themselves, Peter realises that by becoming a father, he's opening up his child to the same kind of hurt he now feels if he dies unexpectedly. Peter's character reveals the sobering effects of realising our own mortality. Watching Peter being gripped by melancholy makes you realise that while grieving is important, so too is being able to let go, live in the moment and celebrate the wonderful things in life.
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