Forever Young: The Childhood Whimsy of Wes Anderson

How the director tells serious stories with a sense of wonder.
By  · Published on May 22nd, 2017

How the director tells serious stories with a sense of wonder.

If ever there was a word to describe the kind of atmosphere a Wes Anderson movie emits, that word without a doubt would have to be “whimsy.”

“Playfully quaint” is in part how Webster’s defines “whimsy,” and that might as well be a quote from an esteemed critic geared towards any of Anderson’s films. His characters and the worlds in which they live are slight exaggerations of our own, part reality and part absurdity, comedic and tragic alike. Team this with the obvious artifice of the characters’ costuming and the general production design, and you get films that are almost more theatrical than they are cinematic, stories that come with their structures exposed and ingrained into the narrative.

In particular, though, the whimsy of Wes Anderson and indeed the obvious artifice of his cinema take on a decidedly childish slant, and that’s meant to be a compliment. Despite his mature content – his films have dealt with robbery, murder, deceit, divorce, willful destruction of property, suicide, unrequited love, much death, and all shades of ennui – there is always a child-like filter over the narrative, an air of wonder and novelty that seems eager to learn, to experience, and thus imbues the film with a buoyancy that counters the more serious themes.

In the following essay from Phillip Brubaker made for the fine folks over at Fandor, just how the director creates this atmosphere, aesthetically in particular. It comes down to pairing imagery with theme, and as Brubaker deftly illustrates, Anderson’s a master.


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