Features and Columns · Movies

Big Feels and Flat Affect: Why Wes Anderson Represses Emotion

Ever wondered why the director of ‘The Royal Tenenbaums,’ ‘The Darjeeling Limited,’ and ‘The French Dispatch’ flattens emotion? We’ve got a video essay for that.
The Darjeeling Limited Wes Anderson
Fox Searchlight Pictures
By  · Published on December 1st, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about how director Wes Anderson masks emotion.

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat: Wes Anderson movies are filled with emotion. The young, independence-seeking pre-teens of Moonrise Kingdom experience their first real, adult, love. The three estranged brothers of The Darjeeling Limited are wracked with a sense of hurt and abandonment that drives them towards romance, drugs, and nostalgia. And The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou sees its titular oceanographer grappling with adoptive fatherhood, loss, and forgiveness.

While you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Anderson’s movies lack any sense of emotion, there is, nevertheless, something distinct and restrained about the way the director navigates big feelings. His dialogue is often flattened — Jared Gilman’s delivery of “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about” in Moonrise Kingdom is heartbreaking precisely because of his dry delivery.

Characters communicate in very affected and direct ways, saying what they mean without turning every confession into an opportunity for melodrama. It’s an affectation that resonates with the stylistic distance Anderson evokes in his sets and mise-en-scene, an orderliness and precision that often clashes with the comical or absurdist things that take place on-screen.

As the video essay below underlines, Wes Anderson is keenly tuned in to one of life’s great truths: that we all have repressed emotions that we bury deep inside of us. And, as the essay argues, there’s something charming and utterly relatable about showing those barriers for what they are.

Watch “How Wes Anderson Masks Emotion”:

Who made this?

This video on how Wes Anderson directs emotion is by The Discarded Image, a video essay channel created by Julian Palmer. It began with a deconstruction of how Steven Spielberg creates suspense with the beach scene in Jaws. It has steadily grown from there. You can check out The Discarded Image’s video essays here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).