A Speculative Wes Anderson Filmography (2015-2065)
(illustration by Brianna Ashby)
by Andy Sturdevant
The Dreyfus Affair (2015)
Following two well-received films, Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Anderson writes and directs a bizarre remake of the 1937 Paul Muni biopic The Life of Emile Zola, with Jason Schwartzmann in the lead role as Zola. Though the film wins praise for its meticulous art direction, carefully composed 19th-century Paris setting, and anachronistic Yves Montand soundtrack, critics savage the film. “He seems more interested in getting the waxed mustaches of French military officials correct than in understanding the life of Emile Zola,” complains one. Some over-analytical critics feel the film is a misguided attempt to refute the type of unsentimental naturalism Zola championed; others find this over-analytical criticism ridiculous and suspect Anderson simply wanted an excuse to make a movie with lots and lots of beautiful 19th-century Paris interiors. A slow-motion scene of Emile Zola purchasing a live lobster at the Saxe-Breteuil Market for dinner and silently walking back to his apartment to the strains of Montand’s “Les Feuilles Mortes” is particularly celebrated and/or lambasted.
The Last and Best of the Peter Pans (2017)
Anderson isolates himself in an furnished apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for several months with the complete unpublished works of J.D. Salinger, obtained from an unscrupulous rare book dealer. The screenplay he emerges with is an account of a wealthy young heir (played by John W. Stillman, Jr., son of Whit Stillman, in a breakout performance) who becomes the first male to graduate from a prestigious eastern women’s college. He subsequently strikes up an odd friendship with a self-sacrificing Pakistani ice cream man in Central Park. Some hail it as a return to form. Detractors agree, noting that the form being returned to is the form of “youthful, damaged elites in a romanticized New York City interacting with near-mute foreign-born stock characters.” Reviews are mixed.
The Sisters Tagliatelli (2019)
Anderson seems here to be self-consciously addressing his reputation for consistently writing thinly-developed female characters. “Three chic, mysterious women (Kat Denning, Kristen Stewart, and Emma Watson) silently and mirthlessly sit around an apartment in Venice smoking for two hours and listening to Leonard Cohen,” complains one critic. “Barely a movie,” grouses another. The film is light on dialogue, heavy on “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
Mission: Impossible X:II [aka M:I:X:II] (2022)
Inexplicable commercial forces compel Anderson to step in for an ailing Paul Thomas Anderson to direct Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible XII. Tom Cruise weighs 275 pounds and is former governor of Ohio. Adrien Brody and Luke Wilson play estranged twin brothers that force Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character out of retirement when they threaten to destroy Connecticut with invisible Tesla frequencies. The soundtrack is entirely pre-T. Rex Marc Bolan solo recordings. A box office disaster—and the beloved franchise lies dormant until it is reinvigorated four years later with Sofia Coppola’s reboot, The Impossible Mission.
The Black Maria (2025)
Anderson’s audacious attempt to make a feature-length commercial film using turn-of-the-twentieth-century silent kinetoscopic technology gets him exiled to France for ten years. The film features a grainy, stand-out performance from Anjelica Huston in her final role. The film is celebrated in certain neo-Luddite circles as America enters its sixth SuperRecession in ten years, but distribution is limited. Anderson’s insistence on a live piano score any time the film is publicly screened further cripples the film’s commercial prospects.
Anderson’s 35-years-later sequel to Rushmore, written with Owen Wilson and 100-year old fellow Texan Larry McMurtry, proves one of his most controversial films. Adrien Brody steps in for the tragically deceased Jason Schwartzmann. Max Fischer is now in his fifties and president of Bloom Amalgamated Offshore Manufacturing, Inc. He is confronted with the return to town of Margaret Yang, who harbors a painful secret. All assume Max and Margaret will resume their high school romance. Can these friends find equilibrium in middle age? Mixed reviews.
Seen Those English Dramas! (2037)
A well-received 4D concert film of peerless rock icons Vampire Weekend’s legendary thirtieth anniversary residency at Madison Square Garden. “Two timeless institutions make rock music history together,” enthuses one respected Internet commenter. “A bunch of twee old farts reliving the Noughties,” gripes a college-aged Internet commenter.
Well-Respected Men (2040)
The death of Ray Davies in 2040 at age 96 seems to have shaken Anderson and plunged him into a period of reflection. He isolates himself in an apartment in Lambeth, London for several months. The screenplay he emerges with is an account of two eccentric, emotionally-shattered musician brothers whose 1960s beat group travels from the UK to India in search of enlightenment with a large supporting cast of oddball characters. Internet commenters complain Anderson has been repeating himself for forty years, but Well-Respected Men sweeps the Oscars, including prizes for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and a long-denied award for Best Director. A generation of young American filmmakers, having weathered the hardships of a near-continuous series of SuperRecessions, idolize Anderson and admire the now-vanished, never-was world of affluence and whimsy his characters inhabit. The turbulent 2040s are marked by a resurgence of interest in Anderson’s work in the American film industry. However, by this time, the American film industry is generally considered by the rest of the world to be an inconsequential outpost for crass, post-Empire nostalgia; the world film establishment is unquestionably dominated by Bollywood. The new generation of celebrated young Indian filmmakers are unimpressed with Anderson’s body of work, and his popularity remains a strictly provincial Western phenomenon. The hero of all young Bollywood filmmakers during the 2040s? Andrew Bujalski.
This is Anderson’s final film before War Between the States II: This Time, It’s Personal tears the Republic into small warring factions in 2049, bringing large-scale American film production to a halt. Anderson retires to a villa in the People’s Republic of Greater Maine, where he dies peacefully in April 2065.
Andy Sturdevant is a writer and artist living in Minneapolis. He has written about art, history and culture for a variety of Twin Cities-based publications and websites, including mnartists.org, Rain Taxi, Mpls. St. Paul, and heavytable.com. He also writes "The Stroll," a weekly column on art and visual culture in the neighborhoods of Minneapolis-St. Paul for MinnPost. Many of these pieces are collected in his first book, Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow, published by Coffee House Press in 2013.
Editor’s note: in honor of today’s release of Wes Anderson’s brand new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, we are running Andy Sturdevant’s essay from the inaugural issue of BW/DR Magazine on the site today in its entirety, for the very first time, for free. Happy Wes Anderson Release Day!
BILL MURRAY WEEK: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
I LOVE YOU, BUT YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.
by Brianna Ashby
After seeing Moonrise Kingdom, my brother-in-law wrote to say that Suzy Bishop reminded him of the way he imagined me as a young lady. I was flattered that anyone would ever conceive of me as a possible part of Wes Anderson’s world—and thrilled by the idea that, as an adult, I’ve come to embody the sort of child that I always wished I had been. Unfortunately, I lacked the confidence and the sense of purpose that it takes to embrace your own particular weirdness: It took me years to recognize that the things that separated me from most of my peers were the things that defined who I was—and it took me even longer to believe that someday someone else would actually love me for those very same quirks.
And then it happened. I began to come into my own once I saw so much of myself mirrored in someone else, but at the same time, I wanted to keep it all a secret, afraid that somehow it would tarnish if it was left exposed. I finally felt that I had found someone I could build a world around. Together we collected old photographs and postcards—bits of other people’s histories—and tried to replicate them with grainy polaroids and love notes in loopy cursive that helped to inject a sense of nostalgia into the slowly budding narrative we were busy creating together because, to us, it felt like it had already been written years ago.
When Sam Shakusky meets Suzy Bishop in the summer of 1965, it is the reintroduction of two old souls, a continuation of a story that had begun long before. Their instant connection, the strength of their bond, and their resolve to be together against all odds defies their tender ages, but their courage and defiance in plotting an escape from the world belies the sort of innocent and untainted hope only a twelve year old could ever truly possess. Watching the film, I did see some of myself in Suzy, not as a young girl, but as a young woman who found hope for herself and for the future in the face of a young man. Moonrise Kingdom is a restorative film: unabashedly uplifting, and so very, very alive, breathing fresh air into our dusty old hearts and reminding us what it is like to love with the absolute conviction and utter abandon of the young.
I still have a shoebox full of crumbling sepia photographs that serve as the last vestiges of that formative relationship. Sometimes we need something tangible to jog our memories so we can revisit places and times that have long since gone by. We all primarily use the same means of storing our pasts, and the same tools for recollecting them, and in Moonrise, Wes Anderson ingeniously plays off of this intimate commonality, giving the film a recognizable context, making Sam and Suzy’s love story feel like our love story. Lingering shots of unruly sea grass and weathered lighthouses, threadbare braided rugs thrown over sandy hardwood floors and ancient bike paths read like snapshots from a family vacation; someone’s attempt to capture on film what it feels like when the salty breeze tosses your hair around while you squeeze your eyes shut and see the fiery specter of the sun behind your eyelids.
The brief image of Suzy, binoculars in hand, all white and coral against that impossibly blue sky, is stunning in both its beauty and its simplicity. You get the feeling that if you plucked any moment off of the screen, you would find yourself holding an old Polaroid, marveling at both the sudden pang of nostalgia and the masterful hand of the photographer. The graininess of the “film” and the mostly bleached color palette lend an undeniable home movie quality that instantly lures you in with its familiarity.
Anderson has once again obsessively and painstakingly created a gloriously detailed and immersive world—this time the fictitious coastal town of New Penzance, somewhere off the coast of New England. Having spent all of my childhood summers in coastal towns in the region, the affectionate portrayal of the tiny hamlet is especially striking, but not at all surprising considering the lengths that Anderson will often go to elevate the setting of a film into an integral character. (Rushmore Academy, The Tenenbaum House, The Belafonte…) We conjure the spirits of the places that have held us like we summon the distant specters of lips that we have once kissed, often recalling a sheet of peeling wallpaper or the feeling of a cold tile floor beneath our feet with more clarity than the touch of another. The settings of our firsts and lasts aren’t merely static backdrops, they live and breathe with us, holding fast to the parts of our lives we experienced within their bounds, even the places and people that we’d like to forget.
And it’s not particularly surprising that the people and places of New Penzance are exactly what Sam and Suzy would like to forget. It is abundantly clear to both of them that the adult exemplars they are meant to follow are, in reality, incredibly lonely people that seem to be irrevocably unhappy. What spirited, dreamy, love-struck child wants to believe that they are destined to a life of bludgeoning mediocrity? That they will never be able to flourish and grow and build? Suzy’s parents, Walt and Laura Bishop, are shining examples of what happens when you close yourself off to wonder and surprise, whimsy and adventure, and, most damaging of all, love. Their marriage is stagnant, their lives quiet, mundane and unrewarding.
The older we get, and the longer our relationships last, the more convoluted they often become—until one day we don’t even really remember what we are fighting for or about. Time continues to pass until we no longer recognize the people we’ve become, but have also forgotten who we ever were to begin with. The Bishops’ struggle and misguided efforts to understand their “troubled” daughter, and her reasons for running away, stem from this difficulty in recalling a time when they were bound together through desire instead of obligation. It is this overwhelming feeling of obligation that binds the adult characters together; the Bishops, Captain Sharp, and Scoutmaster Ward, all obliged and determined to protect Sam and Suzy from the same sad fates that have befallen them at the hands of love. When this motley crew of lonely hearts bands together to find the preteen darlings and rescue them from themselves, it becomes painfully obvious who really needs the saving.
With all of the adults in their lives mired in denial and bogged down by rules and regulations and logistics and responsibilities, it is no wonder that Sam and Suzy, two misfits longing for freedom and acceptance, find the perfect escape in each other. The scenes of Suzy reading aloud from her favorite fantasy stories while Sam listening intently by her side are so charming and so wistful and so right; their casual intimacy is enviable in its purity, their youthful awkwardness making it all the more heart rending. (The flawless addition of a Francoise Hardy 45 doesn’t hurt either.)
Seeing Sam and Suzy on screen, I couldn’t help but think back to the times in my own life when I felt like I could throw everything overboard because all I needed to survive was a single other person, us against the world. It is a selfish mindset, but not necessarily a malicious one. Sometimes you have to leave behind the Sharps and the Bishops and the Wards of the world in order to avoid following in their tragic footsteps. Sometimes you have to take the lead so that they can follow your example.
Moonrise Kingdom ignites the spark of emotional wanderlust that lies dormant in so many of us, and shows us what we could do with even a fraction of our youthful lust for adventure. I want to remember what it was like to play fast and loose with my heart, even when it seems foolish, because so much of value can lie buried underneath words like ‘dangerous’ and ‘absurd’. I want to spend more time thinking about what brought my husband and I together instead of what we’re going to have for dinner tonight. I want to feel like I’ve found my place in the world and that it’s exactly where we stand, and every line on every map that does not outline this place is erased by an invisible hand. I want to save myself before I need saving. I want to flip through faded old photographs plucked from moments in my life and feel the sun on my face and the salt from the sea air settle on my skin. I want to find my own Moonrise Kingdom, a place where they will never find us, because maybe, just maybe, there’s still some lightning in me yet.
Brianna Ashby has taken off her shoes and one of her socks and…actually, I think she’s crying.
Carrots, Jaguar Sharks & Beige Lunatics: The Collaborations of Wes Anderson and Bill Murray
by Neil Fox
The mythology of the clown: beneath the perma-smile lies darkness, melancholy. A lifetime expended at the demands to provide others joy leaves a deep stain, a coldness, a loneliness inside that the make-up hides. This mythology has passed from the clown to the comic—despite examples of well-rounded, stable guys and gals making us laugh on stage and screen, we have come to expect tales of addiction, illness and troubled lives in connection with our comic idols. Think of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman and John Belushi. The last tragic figure on that short list was a friend and collaborator of Bill Murray, a beloved comedian and film star who has remained largely disconnected from this idea that comedians inherently have a Jekyll & Hyde persona.
Despite occasional reports of marital and parental impropriety, I’ve always loved and held to the Bill that is out there on the edge like his old friend Hunter S. Thompson—foiling bank robberies, crashing karaoke parties, calling Mitch Glazer every time Road House is on TV, taking film roles by mistake, drunkenly crashing golf carts. He has a commitment to wild living and mischief that thankfully never boils over into fully-blown mania, so I could largely ignore the signs that have emerged throughout his filmography pointing to a darkness lurking underneath. I took his survival as a signifier that he wasn’t troubled like those others, now departed, that I mention above. But then something happened that I couldn’t ignore any more.
I think in the work of Wes Anderson, a fascinating collaboration that has spanned six films and counting, Murray bares a part of his soul that is exactly in line with this idea of the tragic comic, the downcast clown. Bill is sad. He’s really sad. For me, Wes Anderson is the great contemporary filmic interpreter of sadness. At the heart of his films lies an almost unbearable sadness that completely dispels any criticism that his films lack heart or humanity. His characters are adrift, searching for love, meaning and/or connection. He captures alienation and melancholy as powerfully as Bergman, and in Bill Murray he has the perfect cipher. Bill is a star we expect to make us laugh, and he certainly fulfills that role in Anderson’s films, but there’s more—much more—and it’s hard to watch and it’s hard to take, because we love him and we want him to be okay, to keep on making us laugh. While other films might feed into a serious side of Bill—Lost in Translation or Broken Flowers, say—the Anderson films go deeper, into the potential soul of an enigmatic star.
I’ve been teaching Bill Murray movies for Film Studies a lot this term, and started the year with screenings of Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom. For the topic of stardom I screened Groundhog Day, and we discussed theorist Christine Geraghty’s categories of “star”: celebrity, performer and professional. According to Geraghty’s categories, Murray could be placed in the ‘celebrity’ camp, as he is a star that we relate to and have a relationship with in terms of his celebrity. His general, common persona is not one we associate with forwarding the craft of acting—which is the criteria for the “performer” category. Often, Murray emulates the “professional,” an actor whose onscreen portrayals viewers believe to be extensions of his or her off-screen life. This definitely holds true for many Murray characters—Peter Venkman, Phil Connors, maybe Ernie McCracken in Kingpin—but the Anderson performances are different; I think these are the yang to the yin of those classic comic roles. I don’t believe we can have one without the other. Of course there are hints of the “Anderson” Murray in other films, and there are films where he plays straight wonderfully. Who could deny the masterpiece that is Groundhog Day, where Murray balances balls-out humour with serious emotional depth? But Phil Connors feels a universe away from the men I’m looking at here, men I truly believe connect us to another side of Bill—these sad, bitterly funny but eerily bitter men, tired and longing for an escape from the life they are trapped in.
I don’t even think it’s a stretch to suggest that Bill’s roles in Wes’s films are all variations of the same character, even his Badger. Bill always plays professionally successful men—businessmen, a lawyer, a writer and neurologist, a famed explorer—all seemingly at different stages of one vast mental breakdown. He imbues them all with the same delicate sadness that makes them human.
'Havin' some carrots?' - Harold Blume (Rushmore)
That line alone, which belongs in the line reading hall of fame, is enough to warrant an essay on Bill and Wes. It’s simultaneously hilarious and utterly depressing in its unease and awkwardness. Much like Harold Blume, I remember the first time I saw Rushmore. It was the first Wes Anderson film I saw, and I knew instantly that he was a director I was going to adore. Furthermore, here was a star I knew so well, doing something I’d never seen him do, even in his more serious turns. He was brazenly uncomfortable, silly and abject, all at once. Bill Murray: fearlessly melancholy, reaching deep into himself for some dark humour and wonderful oddness. It was like seeing Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, or Jim Carrey in The Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—only, not quite. Those feel like one-offs, whereas Rushmore felt like the start of something, the opening of a door, and so it has proved. In an interview with Wes Anderson after the film was released, Bill is incredibly effusive about the writing and the character—it’s clear that he loved and felt committed to the script. He wanted to go all out. Interestingly, Wes wanted Murray for his first film, Bottle Rocket, which would have made it a full house for the pair. I remember feeling incredibly empathetic watching Murray stand, barely, in a hospital lift with Max, disheveled, two cigarettes simultaneously lit, miniature booze bottles being stashed beneath clean towels, delivering an eternal pause before uttering the blackest of lines—‘Ummmm. I’m a little bit lonely these days.’
From there, we go to the imitable Raleigh St. Clair.
'You've made a cuckold of me' —Raleigh St. Clair (The Royal Tenenbaums)
I could watch this movie constantly (and for a while, after it came out, I did). I waded into this film in a big way and I think it’s still my favourite Wes Anderson film. I adore it. So painful, and so funny. So beautiful. It’s also my favourite Murray performance in one of Wes’s films. His Raleigh is utterly adrift. He has one expression and one tone of voice—for work and his utterly awful private life. He is omnipresent, but completely invisible, as a character and as a husband. His is a spectral presence in the film. He is humiliated by his wife, Gwyneth Paltrow’s broken Margot. Even then he cannot leave this family—turning up at the subsequent wedding and funeral. He represents the fascination with these people who are flawed, selfish, broken, pained. His scenes with Dudley, his latest subject, are brilliant comic relief, and it’s here that he shows off his incredible comic delivery. For me, it’s in two moments—when he assesses Dudley’s block building performance, and when he quietly dictates notes on Dudley—that the Murray genius, and the genius of Anderson in casting him, is most clear and joyous to behold.
How does Raleigh fit in with my idea of the sad men? Well, easier than most. This is a man so devastatingly sad that each time he is on screen—usually on the edge of it, in danger of falling completely from view, wearing the same rusty corduroy jacket and purple polo neck combo—I just want to hug him and tell him “it’s going to be okay.” But I know it will do no good. He’s too sad. It’s a more somber sadness than Harold Blume’s, whose grief is aloof—different, too, from Walt Bishop’s sadness, which is bitter. And Raleigh’s not crazy with it, not like the most prominent character he has played for Wes, the mad Steve Zissou.
'I wonder if it remembers me' —Steve Zissou (The Life Aquatic)
Captain Steve Zissou utters this line at the end of a crazy movie, as the sounds of Staralfur by Sigur Ros rise up from the ocean floor, as he comes face to face with his white whale (in the form of the elusive Jaguar Shark). The sadness is as black as the deepest ocean cavern and almost unbearable.
The Life Aquatic is perhaps Anderson’s most divisive, incoherent and rambunctious work. It’s sprawling and crazed and tangential but for me it’s rich in wonder, ambition and a desire to dive head first into its mission, despite the seeming disaster-laden outcome. I love that he took such a leap when he did, which is why I feel this film has so much in common with Moby Dick, even if there is a lack of refinement in its execution. I said to fellow BWDRer Andrew that I felt the experience of reading this essay may be akin to watching this film—ambitious, sprawling, possibly incoherent but profoundly necessary. I digress.
Lack of refinement? Good I say. Zissou is not a refined character. He is embarking on a selfish mission, dangerous to those he knows worship him, but his rage, sadness and bitterness is all-consuming. That emotional cocktail also means he doesn’t really know what he is doing or where he is going. And so the film follows those messy human character traits. And veers and stalls and squirms and frustrates—but also delights, with its black gallows humour and cinematic ambition. I love it when films do that. It’s alive, driving down towards the blackness, aching, needing to see the shark again, to bring the proof of existence to the surface. More films should be as unrefined. And I feel this way about it mainly because of Bill Murray’s performance in the title role, which is gorgeous and pitch-perfect.
He’s let off the leash here, and in his moments with Seymour Cassel’s departed Esteban particularly, the mischievous and improvisatory Bill is plain for all to see. We also get glimpses of the dark Bill mentioned earlier—marital and patriarchal Bill—and it’s not an easy watch as he attempts to philander, then deny, then control his newly-arrived maybe-son:
“This is probably my son Ned,” he proclaims.
The film is unhinged and unconfined. It’s not safe, and this is how Murray plays it. You are never sure where he is coming from emotionally, but he delivers the reflective moments with such deep poignancy it’s hard to really hate him, despite Murray’s challenges to the contrary:
“What happened to me? Did I lose my talent? Am I ever gonna be good again?” He’s narcissistic, vain and borderline horrid—but he’s also funny, and in his zeal and ambition he echoes great figures of lore. He’s a paradox. Through charm and empathy, Murray wins us over to Zissou—a slim margin of victory, as always in the Wes Anderson universe. Here is a man grappling with his mortality and his legacy. Ten years on from Groundhog Day, the high point of the comic/serious tightrope walk in Murray’s career, and it’s as though Murray is asking the same questions of himself that Zissou asks. His Anderson roles are all variations on this theme: men struggling to understand their place, what they have done, what they really have and will leave behind—all save Badger.
“Demolitions expert. Explosions, flames, burning things.” —Badger (The Fantastic Mr. Fox)
In the Murray-Anderson oeuvre, Badger is the anomaly. He provides the moral conscience of the protagonist, and is head of a loving, close family. He is a lawyer and his wife is a doctor and he is mostly together. In the parallel universes of Wes’s Murrays he is the happiest one, but even here, darkness lurks beneath the surface, not only when he exclaims his adeptness with explosives with barely containable glee, but also in the way he constantly challenges George Clooney’s Foxy, undermining, picking at him. They are good friends but there is a clear rivalry, something just shy of jealousy. Even as a Claymation animal he cannot be without a hint of discontent.
“I’ll be out back. I’m gonna find a tree to chop down.” —Walt Bishop (Moonrise Kingdom)
If Harold Blume and Raleigh St. Clair were sad, they’ve got nothing on the bitterness conjured by Walt Bishop, a man so disconnected from his daughter he is addressed in brackets in a note she leaves for her brother. Bishop wears the most incredible trousers, but throws his shoes at a local scoutmaster. He is a lawyer who has lost the ability to communicate any other way—he sits opposite his entire family and utters legalese, “be advised.” His is the most vocally sad of Wes’s Murrays. There is a scene with his wife, each in their separate beds, that to my mind is one of the most brilliant pieces of writing about fractured matrimonial reflection ever written.
Laura: I’m sorry, Walt.
Walt: It’s not your fault. Which injuries are you apologising for? Specifically.
Laura: Specifically? Whichever ones still hurt.
Walt: Half of those were self-inflicted. (pause) I hope the roof flies off and I get sucked into space. You’ll be better off without me.
Laura: Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
Laura: We’re all they’ve got, Walt.
Walt: It’s not enough.
Anyone who has faced the darkness of mental illness, or knows someone who has, can feel the realness in those exchanges, particularly the refusal to leave the darkness. For me, the scene clarifies my earlier claim regarding how perfectly Anderson captures sadness and alienation. Here, Murray again is the voice for that sadness and alienation. His Walt Bishop is married with children, like Badger in Fantastic Mr. Fox, but his lot is not a remotely happy one. Anderson seems to undermine the cherished rom-com categories of marriage and family, suggesting that it’s not enough to aim for those ideals as an end result. They, too, can breed unhappiness. Anderson instead asks us to fight for pure, unadulterated and brilliant love, like that of Sam and Suzy, constantly. If we feel it in the pit of our stomach, we shouldn’t allow it to vanish once marriage licenses are signed and children baptized. It should be stoked and kindled constantly. Even at the end of the film, after Bishop has used his only remaining skill (that of lawyer) to be a half-decent parent, and has returned to something resembling a family man, he is still at a distance, somewhat estranged from his wife and parenting by megaphone. At least they are distanced together. There is hope. If it all seems so unbearably sad, Moonrise Kingdom is further proof of Murray’s ability to plumb the darkest depths, fearlessly, without ego, yet still conjure moments of howling hilarity. The aforementioned shoe throwing, the aimless stumbling around throwing cat food and the canonical moment where he—shirtless (but with amazing trousers) and clutching a half empty bottle of booze—grabs an axe and proclaims to his young male offspring the line that opened this section.
Beyond the inherent sadness in Anderson’s films, his humour is a huge part of why I love them. They never sink into self-pity or navel gazing because there are so many vocal and visual moments of absurdity that lift them into something real and delightful. And this, to my mind, is why Bill Murray is so important to Anderson. This balance of sadness and light is a hard thing to do. It takes a genius. I don’t use that word lightly; the consistent evidence of genius is there in this sublime collaboration. A visionary director has given Murray the tools to conjure masterpiece upon masterpiece of performance, even with limited screen time. And none of his screen time is more limited than the final Anderson film, purposely discussed out of sequence.
The Darjeeling Limited's Running Businessman
Murray’s appearance in The Darjeeling Limited is small. Out of the context of the collaborative oeuvre, it’s innocuous—kind of like Anderson’s saying, “it’s just cool to have Murray in your film even for a minute or two.” It also reminds me of Seinfeld. On the extra features of the brilliant DVD of the seminal series, Jason Alexander talks about the episode where Jerry and Elaine go to Florida, seemingly leaving no need for George (Alexander’s character) in the episode. Alexander was furious. He claimed that if his character wasn’t needed in every episode, even for one line, he was out. It may have been on the prima donna side at the time, but it created a now legendary legacy of a set of circumstances where you can’t imagine it any other way. You can’t imagine a Seinfeld episode without the masterful foursome all in attendance at some point—and so it is now with Bill Murray and Wes Anderson. He’s so integral to the thematic tone of Anderson’s films that we need to see him, even if he is just desperately chasing down a train and fleetingly glimpsed as one of the lost souls seeking love, meaning or connection.
And yet, when seen in connection with the other characters, this fleeting appearance feels the most unifying and symbolic of all. A clearly successful businessman races desperately to catch a train—first in a taxi where he nervously glances back over his shoulder, then on foot with luggage—and fails. He is trying to hold it all together, but alone, he just can’t. And he is passed by a younger, more athletic man. This aloneness is all-consuming, as evidenced by the other glimpse of Murray’s character, in the sweeping, weeping panoramic shot of the train carriages, real and imagined. He sits alone, adrift, nervously glancing back over his shoulder again, unable to let the past go and without the companionship that could ultimately save Messrs. Blume, St. Clair, Bishop, and Zissou—and has saved Badger. And could save us.
I now find it impossible to think of Murray without imagining his Anderson characters. I devour interviews and images of the pair working together, being interviewed together. It is tempting to see this relationship as the central one in Murray’s life, the one that supports and encourages him to show the world his incredible talent on a constant, consistent basis. The relationship that challenges him more than any other. Maybe he has found that true love, and we are all better off artistically, cinematically and emotionally because of it.
Neil Fox would like to be in Stevesy’s A-Squad and wants to front a garage rock band called The Beige Lunatics. He tumbls here.