Nobody Understands Me!

New Wes Anderson movie!!!


But wait, isn’t he the king of using super-extra style to cover over a lack of substance?

Don’t we want EMOTION in our films? Isn’t all that precious, twee, hipster, white, wealthy, careful, controlled style just NOT WHAT MOVIES ARE FOR?

Too much postmodern posture, and not enough human feeling?

This is perhaps the most common response to Wes Anderson. For example, from the review linked above:

I’ve long felt that despite his technical skill, Anderson’s dollhouse aesthetic—as distinctive and personal as it may be—has mostly stifled any ounce of spontaneity or genuine emotion in his movies. The filmmaker’s jokes have been more “funny” than funny, his picture-frame-ready images are art-directed to within an inch of their lives, and his sensibility has often felt like an aging-hipster pose.

Someday I may write a book on this. Depending on how my life goes. But for now, I’ll shorten the premise:

Sometimes, style is emotion.

Sometimes postmodern play is the most human (messy, feelings-y) way to understand our world.

Wes Anderson movies are among the most emotional I have ever seen. And it’s because of the carefully controlled style. The aesthetic so distinct it squeezes us in. All these flamboyant, colorful, staged and arranged ways to cope with the most basic hurts.

But people are used to a common misperception of postmodern aesthetics: that “irony” and “sincerity” are opposites. That self-consciousness cancels out real feeling.

But think about the fussy, controlled, self-conscious people you know. Are they robots? Are their emotions buried so far down that it would take a deathbed confession to wring out a single tear? If you prick them do they not bleed?

Right. Control is highly emotional.

And so is all that style we complain about in Wes Anderson films.

These false dichotomies are very very popular in discussions of literature, too. Even among some scholars.

Listen, maybe Anderson really is just working out his white bourgeois malaise on screen, and all the stuffy, repressed, cold parents in his films are just about him and his white guy problems.

But I think it’s much more interesting to think about these films as representing a watershed moment in American aesthetics, an attempt to reconcile the rival impulses for aesthetic innovation AND representing us how we really are. All the scholarship about “post-postmodernism”—a funny way to talk about this transition—really is about synthesizing these two modes of art. Franzen, Wallace, and others have also tried to talk about this in sweeping generational terms, with varying success.

Here’s my simplification of Frazen’s and Wallace’s arduous attempts at this: Lots of the high postmodernism was hard to read. Because there wasn’t enough feeling in it. But it’s still the most accurate way to deal with our crazy world. So let’s try to do both!

But these are the boxes that writers want to put books and films into. You get one or the other, either the transparent realism of feelings and social issues OR the self-conscious, stylized, elaboration of form that’s more about the art itself and not about the world.

So let’s think a little differently about it.

Less like this:

He’s still a filmmaker teetering dangerously on the brink of terminal tweeness, but Sam and Suzy bring out Anderson’s sincere side.

And more like this:

Or this:



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One thought on “Nobody Understands Me!

  1. […] Every time Sally and Glen show up in the same frame, it gets a little Rushmore in the joint. […]

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