As a Wes Anderson cheerleader and to tie in with the release of Moonrise Kingdom which was released last Friday I have composed a top 10 of his best ever characters from his films. I believe that Anderson sits amongst modern directors as a true auteur alongside modern visionaries as Daren Aronofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson or Michael Haneke. Themes of loneliness, being an outcast, a genius, paternal figures or unrequited love are all expressed in a way that only Anderson knows how. His first film Bottle Rocket was about three inept bank robbers. Then he released the “trilogy of medium”; Rushmore (a play), The Royal Tenenbaums (a novel), and the Life Aquatic (documentary) each film reflecting a unique perspective on his universal themes. There is a real good interview with Francesca Babb in the Guardian’s Guide and last Thursday Film Four hosted a brilliant Wes Anderson Night with a ten minute Anderson interview special followed by Fantastic Mr Fox, The Darjeeling Limited and Rushmore. Below is my one sentence review of Moonrise Kingdom, followed by “what the others said”, followed by my top ten:
Illbomb one sentence review: “a truly original take on the absurdities of human behaviour” Verdict A
Ultra culture: “nonetheless I’m happy to report that Moonrise Kingdom is an absolute smash. It’s a gloriously overemotional tale of two pre-teen lovers (newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, both awesome) full of lime-soaked scenery and pleasingly stilted 1960s telephone conversations. Wears a little thin at the end but not enough that you’ll care.”
Peter Bradshaw review without the spoiler alerts: “There is elegance and formal brilliance in Moonrise Kingdom as well as a lot of gentle, winning comedy.”
1 Max Fisher (Rushmore)
Max Fisher is my first point of trajectory into the Anderson oeuvre, an excellent character and an impressive acting debut from Jason Swartzman. Fisher encapsulates one of Anderson’s central themes within his films; the theme of obsession. Initially this obsession is focused on the private school of Rushmore of which he attends and the extracurricular activities there give his life meaning but to the detriment of his studies and his place at the school. If Max could stay at Rushmore forever he would but of course this is an impossible dream. He strikes a friendship with Mr Blume a successful businessman who becomes a father figure to him (another Anderson reoccurring theme) though his real father who owns a modest barbershop he is ashamed of. His obsession soon switches to the new teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) who becomes his “Rushmore”. Yet his unrequited love is unabated and unfortunately for Fisher, Miss Cross is the opposite of Mrs Robinson.
“sharp little guy” but “he is one of the worst students at rushmore”
2 Margot Tenenbaum (The Royal Tenenbaums)
On the one hand Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) is your typical Anderson character but on the other hand she is not. She is put into a married relationship that doesn’t satisfy her and burgeons on one that is no good with Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), and her taboo feelings for her step brother Richie only complicates matters further. She is an outsider, adopted daughter to a group of prodigious siblings and although her mom treats her like part of the family her father does not, and this has a profound effect on her. Margot is perhaps the most unique character Anderson has created; less talkative and self absorbed. While everyone tries to understand her she is adept at keeping secrets and not revealing what she is truly thinking. Yes she comes across as cold and distant, but it is the little moments where she lets slip that delivers the best emotions.
Margot’s secrets revealed in musically themed Ramone’s montage
3. Dignan (Bottle Rocket)
Bottle Rocket was Anderson’s first film and Dignan is the first truly original Anderson character. An outsider, Dignan desperately wants to fit in but is always unable to do so. He is the dominant figure amongst his only two friends; Anthony and Bob but more often than not gets bullied and taken advantage of from everyone outside of this circle. His five year plan to make it big by pulling off a series of heists is a dedicated act to impress his friends and the father figure (which is always prominent in Anderson films) Mr. Henry, played by James Caan. Dignan is the supreme outcast and loner whose mental stability is constantly exposed for its fragility. The biggest baby, but a poignant figure in the Anderson oeuvre.
4 Herman Blume (Rushmore)
Herman Blume is Bill Murray’s renaissance role and the first collaboration with Anderson (He has featured in every Anderson movie since) Blume is basically Max Fisher as an adult. They share the same personality traits, form an immediate bond, with each other, chain smoke and adore the same woman. There is however subtle differences between the two. The main one is that before Miss Cross, there was nothing really to get excited about for Herman. He was stuck in a loveless marriage where his wife is suspected of cheating on him and has identical twins that he despises. So as an adult Herman has none of the joi de verve and passion that Fisher has in abundance but will probably lose when he encounters the tribulations of life. He does however retain the childlike qualities that Fisher so clearly encompasses, with Bill Murray and Anderson giving the modern interpretation of the man-child before Apatow and his associates made a career out of it.
tit for tat
5. Eli Cash (The Royal Tenenbaums)
Eli Cash has known the Tenenbaum family since he was a kid and maintained a close friendship with them well into adulthood. The family friend; he is the best friend of Richie Tenenbaum, but undertaking a secret affair with Margot, Richie’s step sister of whom Richie is in love with. Although he has a lower economic status, he desperately wants to be a part of the Tenenbaums (the outsider wanting to fit in theme again!), and pursues a successful writing career that he holds up as a litmus test to the other prodigious talents of the Tenenbaum’s. Eli has the self destruct button on constant, his affair with Margot being the prime example. He spends the entire movie out of his head on mescaline and is the most out there of Anderson’s characters.
6. Steve Zissou (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
Steve Zissou embodies eccentricity turned up all the way to 11. Based upon Jacques Cousteau, Zissou is a wildlife documentary filmmaker and owner and captain of the Belafonte ship. Most importantly though he is a phony. He pretends to be an expert in the field of nautical wildlife, but it is his crew that he surrounds himself with and his wife that ensure that Team Zissou is in the position that he is and in creating the Zissou myth. The reporter, Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett) is a major threat to him having spurned his advances and puts his name in turmoil by exposing his ineptitude. His documentaries are transparently contrived, his motives of revenge for his murdered friend are questionable and he is not doing a good job of the father figure role that he has taken on for his would be son Ned (Owen Wilson). Despite all this he is a captivating individual that his crew remain loyal to and he to them and when the time comes to step up to the plate, he does.
7. Bob Mapplethorpe (Bottle Rocket)
Often put upon by his bullying brother and persistently being undermined and used by Dignan, Bob forms part of the trio of Dignan and Anthony that decide to pull off a heist. He is far from the brains of the operation (Dignan is the “brains”) given the role of the getaway driver only because he is the only one that has a car. Out of the trio he is the most privileged and it is clear from the start that his heart is not into stealing as he just wants to be part of the team. Rather, he would prefer to grow and sell weed to make an income.
8. Royal Tenenbaum (The Royal Tenenbaums)
Royal Tenenbaum is the archetypal Anderson father figure. A successful lawyer, he is disgracefully insensitive and a big let down to his kids and his wife. He deliberately shoots his son Chas with an air gun, and steals bonds from him for which Chas successfully sues and has Royal disbarred. Trivially and at every convenience he feels the need to point out that Margot is his “adopted daughter”, shamelessly ostracising her from the rest of the family. Richie is his favourite son and as such takes him to dogfights excluding both Chas and Margot. After being estranged from his family and his ex wife for 22 years and living in a hotel, he soon realises that he cannot function without the love his family and tries to make his way back in, even though his methods (pretending that he has cancer) are reprehensible. Brilliantly portrayed by Gene Hackman.
9. Klaus Daimler (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
Klaus represents a do or die attitude when it comes to his confidant, friend and the father that he never had who is Steve Zissou. On the surface Klaus is a hard as nails German sailor, but deep down he is as soft as Andrex super-soft quilted tissues. He is jealous of the new arrival Ned because he feels threatened that he will take his place as the object of Zissou’s affections as zissou’s would be son. As a result he embarks on a personal feud with Ned; actions that is not becoming for a grown ass man.
10. .Kumar (Bottle Rocket)
I know that this is a very very small part played by four-time Anderson collaborator Kumar Pallana but I had to include him somewhere giving the enduring impact his short amount of time left on me. A bit about the actor Pallana; his appearances in all Anderson films are self referential cameos; he owned a coffee shop called the Cosmic Cup in Dallas, Texas where Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson frequented. In Rushmore he has a non speaking part as the grounds man of the Rushmore school, and in the Tenenbaums he plays Pagoda partner in crime with Royal who at one time stabs Royal in the chest. In Bottle Rocket he plays Kumar the expert safecracker given to Dignan by Mr. Henry. If you are not fussed by spoiler alerts or if you have already seen Bottle Rocket then this YouTube scene will explain to you why Kumar has been included.
Kumar loses his touch as Dignan and the rest mess up