When you are watching a Wes Anderson film, there is no mistaking it for anything else. The colors are very, very bright or else they’re very, very dark. He makes moments. Nothing is actually what it seems to be — everything, but everything, is a symbol for something else. People who love him herald his filmmaking as brilliant, avant garde, aesthetically singular.

But for those of us who may not love him so much, other words come to mind. Twee, for one. Contrived. Anderson reconstructs the world for us, meting out small portions of grief or nostalgia bite by bite throughout his movies, instead of ever giving them to us straight. And I am in the very small minority of people who have this opinion about him, but I dislike Anderson’s filmmaking precisely because nothing in it is ever real.

I have not yet seen Grand Budapest Hotel, and though I can’t guarantee that I will, it has garnered Anderson some of the most rave reviews of his career, even (sort of) changing the mind of one of Anderson’s most vocal critics. But off the bat, I need to be honest: part of the reason I dislike Anderson’s films with such intensity is not only because I think they’re twee, but because they are praised with the kinds of words that ought to be reserved for Albert Einstein or Mother Teresa or the person who invented Trader Joe’s peanut butter cups. He has been called “a marvel,” “brilliant,” and “groundbreaking” — and that’s all from the New York Times. 

As you can tell when you watch the trailer for Grand Budapest Hotel, and any of his other films, Anderson is strongest when he is creating a world hewn by emotions. Ralph Fiennes sits in navy tails flanked by two hotel workers also in blue, one of whom is wearing a cap that says “Lobby Boy,” the young Zero Moustafa. (I hope this is an homage to Frank Rossitano’s trucker hats on 30 Rock.) The inside of the elevator is a glossy, lacquered crimson. Ralph Fiennes has an affair with (a ghoulishly mad-up) Tilda Swinton, and later proclaims her to have been “dynamite in the sack.” There are, of course, trains — Anderson loves trains, and they are visually and historically interesting places to film. When it comes to creating a mood through setting, every last detail in an Anderson film is attended to.

He rarely deals with the issue of religion directly, although Anderson does come back to questions of fathers and sons with regularity: The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore (probably the only Anderson film I can say I like), The Royal Tenenbaums. But the worlds Anderson creates consistently fall short of representing anything like the real world that most of us inhabit. And perhaps that’s the whole point! It may well be that he wants to create this uncanny valley of the world we inhabit, and it seems to please a lot of people. I’m just not one of them. 

Categories: Beliefs

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Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. In addition to being a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, she has also written for publications such as Books & Culture and The Bold Italic. She is interested in the intersection of church and culture.

6 Comments

  1. I see the real world every day so why would I pay $12 to see it in the dark? I saw Grand Budapest Hotel and was very well entertained. If you will not see the film there is the benefit of less wear on the upholstery.

  2. I hope Ms Turner will supply the other 70% of what could have been an interesting response to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but that might be asking a bit much of someone who thinks slang constitutes insight.

  3. I find Wes Anderson films to be damning critiques of “reality.” Yes, his productions are quirky and twee, but it’s done with effective ironic intent. While the production deliberately conjures a strong sense of nostalgia that hearkens back to a golden era of family or society, the narrative tears down the idea of it ever existing in the first place.

    How is that not true of so much of our institutions today? The narratives our churches like to tell of the past are told with the same kind of nostalgia that Wes Anderson wants us to feel. But the reality is that if you dig into the actual history there’s a lot of ugly things that we’d rather not remember (The SBC was founded for slavery). I find that most churches and conservatives for that matter would like to go back to a better past. Wes Anderson would say it’s just figments of our childish and naive imagination.

    You don’t like Wes Anderson films, that’s just fine. But if you think he’s just trying to be twee and unrealistic, you’re completely mistaken.

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