Wes Anderson is well known to be a prolifically innovative modern filmmaker. Here, Will shares his insights into the technical prowess and impeccable style that keeps audiences coming back.
I know…another college kid writing an article about their (apparently) original and high-brow obsession with Wes Anderson. An idol for wannabe indie film students everywhere, Anderson has left his mark on the industry with iconic films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). When directing, Anderson uses immaculate set designs, pastel colors, and symmetry to develop a distinctive style that few can replicate.
The king of aesthetics, his movies have sparked a subculture of whimsy and charm—this charm is epitomized by Accidentally Wes Anderson, a movement dedicated to capturing real life Wes Anderson-esque moments across the globe (See their awesome Instagram here). If you’d like to learn more about the technical aspects of his aesthetic, StudioBinder has made an in-depth video on the color theory behind these movies. Although his style is immaculate, in my mind the true beauty behind Wes Anderson’s films lies in his ability to build Earth-adjacent worlds, providing an escape for audiences into a life tinted with melodrama.
A unique aesthetic binds Wes Anderson’s work together—it almost seems that you could take a character from one movie, plop them down in another, and they would exist just fine. This ability to build a world goes beyond pretty colors and costumes, although these are certainly part of his vision. Anderson intentionally creates scenes that feel almost real, but something always seems unnatural, with the characters existing in their own little Twilight Zone.
Anderson leans into the idea of developing an entire world for one film—everything has a specific place and purpose, just like building a set for a play. The limited pastel color palettes, such as the iconic pink infusing everything from Mendl’s boxes and the hotel’s interior in The Grand Budapest Hotel, simply add another level of separation from audiences’ daily lives.
And what’s more, these distinctive costumes are assigned to characters for the full duration of a film, especially uniforms—the tracksuits of Chas Tenenbaum and his sons in The Royal Tenenbaums, the boy scout uniforms in Moonrise Kingdom, and Max Fischer’s blazer in Rushmore to name a few. Cinematographic choices, led by his long-time partner (and Duke alumni) Robert Yeoman, compound this staged tonality of his cinematic worlds. Wide-angle lenses, whip pans, and extremely symmetrical shots lend an air of artifice to his shots. Another StudioBinder episode, which can be found here, highlights other interesting trends throughout Anderson’s filmography that won’t be touched on in this article.
This slightly artificial tone is also a clever directorial tactic, allowing Anderson to exaggerate the plot and storyline; a viewer gives more leeway to the story when it is not happening in their existing schema. In turn, this creates increased opportunities to highlight important scenes and to emphasize emotions, for both serious and comedic effect. Moonrise Kingdom has several pivotal scenes that arise from this freedom—when Sam pierces Suzy’s ears with fishhook earrings during the climax of their elopement, or when Sam gets struck by lightning and escapes unscathed but covered in soot. These scenes are both the crux and the product of his world-building, a circular reinforcement that encapsulates the strength of his films.
This Wes Anderson world is the perfect escape for audiences—it is close enough to their own life that they feel safe and yet still unpredictable and exciting. Melodrama and dysfunction abound, cultivating a mood that just can’t be replicated. These microcosms of life are why Anderson’s style has blossomed into its own subculture: audiences try to bring some of his films back into their own lives in hopes that their whimsy and playfulness come along for the ride.