Wes Anderson is a true auteur. He creates his films the way wants them and through that he is able to deliver stories and worlds that are original and most importantly entertaining. Bottle Rocket was Anderson putting his foot in the door, proving to not just his peers and his audiences, but also to himself. That debut film has given him the confidence in his ability to write original and risky materials. Many would consider his sophomore film, Rushmore, as his magnum opus; and I can completely empathise to those who feel this way, but since I was introduced to his works during the recent stages of his career, my standards were shaped from it, therefore looking back at Rushmore and Bottle Rocket, I could not help but feel underwhelmed by its restricted and small nature.
Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson collaborate once more after Bottle Rocket to create Rushmore; the story of a young man named Max Fischer and his pursue of winning the heart of a teacher in his prestigious school, Rushmore. The film’s ground-shaking complication occurs more towards midway through the film and its best to come into it blind, as Anderson’s films are always more effective when he surprises us with a reaction or a situation that would often leave its audience with instant laughter. In comparison to Anderson and Wilson’s debut film, Rushmore shifts its priorities towards characterisation and wraps the film’s incidents around it. Bottle Rocket felt like it was trying to capture a much bigger picture, and its characters act more as drivers or guide in helping us get to where we need to go. Rushmore does the opposite, demanding the audience to participate in Max’s journey and find the film’s purpose within it; in short, it is the ride, not the destination.
Rushmore is a film that explores the necessity for class and sophistication. Max is an individual who believes that it isn’t the core and fundamentals that makes one significant, it’s the extra aspects of one’s personality and experience that makes one stand out from the rest; hence the attachments he has for his school campus and the “extra-curricular” activities he builds or signs himself up for. It could also be a subtle facade he creates in order to hide the simplicity of his home life. His obsession of sophistication has led him to pursue the perfect woman. A woman like her is clearly perfect for him but his love for her has deluded him from reality, dismissing logic and foregoing other potential candidates. Anderson handles it in such a way that certainly feels distant at first, as the quirkiness of his character makes it difficult to relate to his insecurities and vulnerabilities. It was also difficult at first to empathise towards his attraction for Rosemary as the film never provides any obvious exposition. My second viewing of the film, made it much easier as I was able to push past the character’s disguise and see more of what makes him human.
Paternal relationships are bread and butter in a Wes Anderson film. I cannot say whether or not these fictional relationships are autobiographically based, or he simply just has strong understanding of the issue? Rushmore, aside from Bottle Rocket, is the more subtle film from Anderson that deals with this type of dysfunction. Max is clearly disappointed with his home life and the career path that his father has chosen, but it never becomes the central problem of the film; it lurks on the back of Max’s mind, subconsciously affecting the reactions and decisions he makes. The father-son relationship dynamic mainly grows from Max’s relationship with Herman Blume, a rich but sad man due to the crumbling of his marriage. Max’s fascination of Herman is due to the inspiring stature that he brings to his appearance; this is an individual that Max ambitiously wants to be. Herman’s interest in Max is due to the fact that he is the only one that truly appreciates him, listening and finding value to the words that come of his mouth; and that is all he really wants anyway, but since his home and family life is not willing to provide that, he had to find alternative individuals who could meet his needs. Eventually the dynamic shifts and the two individuals become more like peers. From there, the relationship becomes more mature and hilarious but also emotional elements begin to surface. The film’s latter half is certainly more effective because of this shift in dynamic, allowing the audience to see more behind the film’s three central characters.
Rushmore is both a visual and audible delight. Anderson, with a higher budget, has improved the film’s cinematography in order for the audience to gain a closer look to his intended vision. He and his long-time collaborator, Robert Yeoman, has opted to use wider lenses in order to fabricate that sense of oddness to its characters, making it easier for the audience to be accepting of their quirky personalities and the reactions they give to particular situations. It also allows Anderson’s trademark symmetrical centred shots to be conveyed in a more effective way. The film’s childlike and escaping musical score, composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, helps emphasise that sense of class that the film is trying to achieve in its protagonist and his environment. His score also helps in softening the film’s themes, allowing them to come off as accessible and only with a hint of comedic darkness to them. The film’s garage rock and folk inspired soundtrack were certainly more effective here than it was on Bottle Rocket. It gives the film that edge that would eventually be lost in Anderson’s future films.
The performances in this film were enjoyable, but nothing spectacular or amazing. For a debut role, this was an impressive one by Jason Schwartzman. He was able to balance the character’s child-like and adult tendencies, allowing the role to feel complex and human, but under Anderson’s direction he allows the character’s idiosyncrasies to be highlighted. It is always wonderful to see Bill Murray in a role that is outside of his trademarks. Murray allows his character to become vulnerable, which he does so well, and through that I was able to buy into the character during its emotional and thematically heavy moments that mainly takes place during the film’s second-final act. I have already seen Murray at his peak, which was Lost in Translation, and what he brings in Rushmore only scratches the surface of what he could bring. Then again, his role here does possess more comedic qualities than his magnum opus role; and in Rushmore he is under the direction of Anderson who leans towards the deadpan sensibilities when shaping his characters. Therefore, I shouldn’t complain too much.
Rushmore is an improvement in all aspects from his debut film, and provides a step closer to the director’s full potential.