Under The Influence: Samantha Lee on Wes Anderson

The director of Baka Bukas on the man behind The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and her favorite film, Rushmore.

by Samantha Lee, art by Pia Samson

 

I recently met a girl without a favorite film. We had been talking for weeks, but I expertly managed to avoid revealing anything too personal about myself. I had long ago placed my heart in a box for safekeeping, and it wasn’t getting out any time soon. It was a rainy Friday night when I got a message from her telling me that she was sad, and that she needed something to cheer her up. Without thinking about it, I sent her a link to Rushmore with a message that said, “This is my favorite film. If you don’t like it, we should stop talking.” Girls come and go, but your favorite film will never leave you.

 

“Girls come and go, but your favorite film will never leave you.”

 

I didn’t have a favorite film until I watched Rushmore. I was in Melbourne in the middle of winter and I remember borrowing a DVD copy from the local library. I was spending six months in the city as part of an exchange program; it was a welcome respite from all the conflicting feelings I had about film school, a pause button I so badly needed. At that point, I had already completed three years, and was completely unable to watch a film for the sake of pleasure. I would overanalyze every shot, cut, and score, even if it was High School Musical 3. And then came Rushmore. It felt so different from any of the films I had experienced before. It felt a lot like coming home.

 

Wes Anderson is primarily known for a distinct visual style that has been copied and reproduced by many aspiring filmmakers around the world. A quick Google search of the key words “Wes Anderson Style” will result in pages upon pages of instructional videos on how to achieve the symmetry, patterns, and palettes that he’s become known for. In the introduction for the book The Wes Anderson Collection, novelist Michael Chabon compares Anderson’s visual style to the boxed assemblages of artist Joseph Cornell. He describes the rigidity of the filmmaker’s shots as a “guarantor of authenticity.” It’s as if this act of honesty, of pointing out the obvious—that films are miniature worlds in rectangular boxes—allows the audience to open themselves up more to the emotions they have been keeping from themselves.

 

 

I’ve never really given much thought as to why I love Rushmore so much. Through the years, the film has become a security blanket of sorts, something I would always turn to when things weren’t going well in my life. I knew that I could see a lot of myself in Max Fischer, the high school outcast who is at once so connected yet so oblivious to everything that’s happening around him. His honesty and commitment to living life on his own terms, despite being isolated for the same reasons, has made Max a hero to me. “I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then… do it for the rest of your life,” he responds when asked what the secret to happiness was. Hearing this line for the first time renewed my love for filmmaking at a time when I was convinced I was going to give it up.

 

A lot of people give Anderson credit for his visual style, but I think what he really excels at is writing stories that make people okay with being themselves. Most kids had Disney films to teach them about going after your dreams, never giving up, and the difference between good and evil; those films served as a blueprint, a guide to life that I never really emotionally connected with. Instead, I found my map into adulthood in Anderson’s body of work. I think timing also had a lot to do with it. For the first time in my life, I was living alone in a different city. I had to figure out how to fend for myself without the help of anybody else. I was struggling with falling in love for the first time, figuring out who I really was, and holding down my first job, all while struggling to make it to my classes on time. I faked my way through adulthood by taking on the roles of Max Fischer, Peter Whitman, and Richie Tenenbaum. His storybook worlds taught me about brokenness, disillusionment, and loss at a time when I thought it was wrong to feel so broken. It’s as if confining harsh realities into neat 16:9 frames gave me the security to explore these feelings without coming unhinged. He taught me that sometimes, people who don’t end up together can slow dance into oblivion, and that’s okay, too.

 

I’ve always been a solitary creature; it’s something that I’ve struggled with for some time. Society teaches us that we shouldn’t be okay with wanting to be alone, that no man is an island, that we should spend our lives in pursuit of our tribe and stick to them. But Anderson taught me that it was okay to build worlds within myself and to keep these worlds inside boxes. That the worlds we build inside ourselves are adventures worth pursuing, too. His body of work is a testament to the fact that it’s normal to feel completely alone, even when you’re surrounded by people in a research vessel in the middle of the ocean, in a cushy New York mansion, or in a packed commuter train in the middle of India.

 

The morning after that rainy Friday night, I received a message from the girl with no favorite film. “Max covers all his brokenness with all these activities and white lies,” she said. And at that moment, I realized that by showing her my favorite film, I had inadvertently given her the keys to the boxes that were inside me. I couldn’t think of anything clever to say, so I turned to Anderson to save the day. “She’s my Rushmore, Max,” I said in reply, and moments later my screen lit up with the words, “She was mine too.”

 

This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of Rogue.

Photo of Wes Anderson by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images