Friday, June 20, 2014

For Your Consideration: Introducing Wes Anderson's Dead Animal Trilogy

Left to right: Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman in Moonrise Kingdom
For many, director Wes Anderson's filmography has grown distinctly of a singular piece. His twee, almost to the point of parody, technique of turning the world into a children's book has made him one of the most excitingly distinct voices in modern cinema. His vision has become so distinct that it is possible to believe that it is all one vision. It is in this regards that I pitch to you The Dead Animal Trilogy. It may seem like a far fetched concept, but if you stick with me, I will show you why this may be been his ulterior motives all along.

What do I mean when I say The Dead Animal Trilogy? The answer is quite simple. In this post, I will explain how Anderson and his desire to kill animals has created a singular vision through similar themes. This is often referred to as a spiritual trilogy. While they do not share the same characters or progressing plot, they have a lot of similar themes. The most popular current example is that of Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End), which features unifying gags and actors in genre parody films while not diminishing each one's individuality.

In the case of Anderson, I believe that his films represent something grander. For this piece, I shall focus on Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. On paper, these three could be less alike. However, if given time to look at it, there's plenty of notable similarities that makes me believe that each one's titular dead animal in some ways signifies something greater and with each one creating a unifying message. Even if a dead animal comes with a sense of cheap tears, Anderson's decisions are intricately placed to signify something greater.

First, I will explore the individual films to give a greater example of what I am referencing.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

"Redemption? Sure. But in the end, he's just another dead rat in a garbage pail."

WHO: Rat (Willem DaFoe)
CAUSE OF DEATH: Upon getting into a fight with Mr. Fox (George Clooney), Rat ends up being slammed into a series of electric wires. While giving a farewell speech regarding his desire for cider, he takes one last drink before dying.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

"Was he a good dog?"
"Who's to say? But he didn't deserve to die."

WHO: Snoopy
CAUSE OF DEATH: While a group of scouts try to kidnap Sam (Jared Gilman) after he disappears, there are a series of arrows shot. One hits the scouts' dog Snoopy, leaving Sam and Suzy (Kara Hayward) to clean up the mess.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

"Did he just throw my cat out the window?"

WHO: Deputy Kovaks' (Jeff Goldbum) Cat
CAUSE OF DEATH: After Dmitri (Adrien Brody) discovers from Deputy Kovaks that there are issues involving his will, including a missing painting, he goes on a search to find the thief. As he storms out, he turns to his accomplice Jopling (DaFoe), whose instinct is to throw Kovaks' cat out of the window to the ground many stories below.


Here's how I think each animal is connected. If one is to understand the basic elements of a food chain, or even an antagonistic relationship, it goes like this: Dog chases cat who chases rat. The symbolism there is pretty obvious. While the films were released in a non-sequential order to follow this logic, there is a certain way that these bookend each other. For instance:

Now, to make the symbolism more obvious: 

1. Moonrise Kingdom is a focus on childhood love. The dog was killed in a form of misfire that turns Sam into a masculine figure by forcing him to deal with harsh realities.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a focus on socioeconomic politics. The cat was killed by a frustrated dictatorship trying to overthrow local businesses, a.k.a. Mr. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his hotel.

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a focus on families and ego. The Rat was killed by his driving ambitions to get cider.

So basically: Childhood love chases socioeconomic politics chases families.

These are universal themes and with the middle piece being the least obvious of Anderson cannon, it begins to add up. In each case, the death causes a main character to realize the harshness of reality and drives them forward in the plot. Each theme also builds to grand view of how society should be built: love, business, and families. These three central themes make up our social understanding of how a society operates. With each animal death, it opened way for exploration of bigger themes. 

Even then, the evolution could be seen as the overthrow of businesses when viewed in a slightly more creative fashion. In Moonrise Kingdom, Sam and Suzy have to defy their parents to achieve their own love. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, the child figure tries to get into the business of running the hotel, thus earning the family's approval. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, the corporations have grown so big that they threaten to overpower the families. By the end, the family defeats the business to realize what is important. They haven't defeated business, but they realize that their bonding is more important.

It seems far fetched, but considering the relative dead animals that connect them, it has potential to be a spiritual trilogy. In fact, with all of them existing in their own stylized universe down to similar Wes Anderson aesthetic, it all makes sense. While this could be applied to every film that the director has ever done, I choose to focus on these three not only because of their sequential order, but because of the blatant similarity as well as the belief that with some creative thinking, they are a continuous exploration out of order. Also the fact that two of the deaths have relation to Willem DaFoe makes the chronological release of the trilogy more poignant.

Other Similarities

Along with these, there are a few other things that unify these films beyond them simply being more of the Anderson camp:

-Asymmetrical shots of lush set pieces
-Contribution of musical compositions from composer Alexandre Desplat
-Appearances in each film by the actors: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray as well as 2 appearances by actors Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Wallace Wolodarsky, Willem DaFoe, and Owen Wilson
-All feature references to literature with two (Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Grand Budapest Hotel) being adaptations
-Huge ensembles that feature introductory performances in major roles

Hopefully my pitch has worked and that you will consider these three parts to one trilogy. As a fan of each of these, I enjoy trying to find a way to make the universe connect. I know that it is hard to accept all of this as a logical set-up, but I do feel there's something here.

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