A Discussion on Wes Anderson’s Rushmore

Welcome to a new feature at the still-young Back Row, Center Seat. My friend Ashley and I have some pretty disparate opinions on certain films, so we thought it would be fun to periodically sit down and discuss our differences. Will one convince the other to a change of opinion, or will we remain solid in our love or hate? Watch this space to find out!

Peter: Let’s start with your Letterboxd review of Rushmore; there are a few things that I think are worth touching on.

Ashley: Sounds good to me!

Peter: So, this right off the bat: “I understand that many people love Wes Anderson, and consider this film to be his darling, I didn’t care for it, nor did I find it meaningful in its desperate half effort to be meaningful.” I must admit to something; even though Anderson is perhaps my favorite modern director, Rushmore didn’t really land with me the first few times seeing it. It has grown on me. In what way do you think it’s trying, but failing, to be meaningful?

Ashley: You were ready, I love it. I’ll put this out there that it was the first W.A. film I’ve seen, and I haven’t seen any others by him since I saw this–not avoiding him, but haven’t worked another one in my projects. I am willing to give more a shot, though. I got the impression, which may be me reading too much into it, that he was trying to make a grand philosophical statement perhaps about the duality of nature, or maybe exploring the id, ego, superego concept which came off pretty artificial to me, and I was really trying to work out why during this rewatch and I think what missed the landing with me most was the way he used hyperrealism to try to achieve that concept.

Peter: You already know how I feel about Bottle Rocket, yes? It’s my least-favorite of his films, but I own it just because it’s Anderson, and it’s growing on me. But my real point is that his films may take a few viewings to get a feel for him. I liked Rushmore, but I didn’t love it, when it came out. It’s a good way to get into Anderson, because most of his usual elements are there, but they aren’t necessarily refined. As for your criticism of the film, you went far deeper into looking for a message than I did. Anderson’s films are always on the surface (for me); they’re all about relationships. All about devotion to friends and family. Each of the main characters is devoted to one of the others in some way, and that’s what really strikes me about Rushmore and Anderson’s other films.

Ashley: I didn’t know how you felt about Bottle Rocket, but I was gifted that recently so I’ll be checking it out soon. I see what you mean about needing to rewatch Anderson’s films. I noticed while rewatching Rushmore that I wasn’t as jolted by, what I’m sure, is his directorial style so that alone made it easier to watch again. In regards to the relationships in the film, did you find them self-fulfilling at all? I had a tough time with that, as that is how they came off to me. The depth seemed to be lacking, for me, and each relationship seemed to serve a purpose only to the individual whose POV we are seeing at that time. I’m interested in your feedback here, because I don’t expect many others are as cynical about human relationships, as I am.

Peter: What I appreciate about Anderson’s characters is that they aren’t “too deep”, if you know what I mean. It’s not that I’m against having to think during a film, but his characters are who they are; they are as flawed and as authentic as anyone in real life. He doesn’t necessarily have some grand message that he’s trying to get out there; his people are real, and the message is just that they all have issues, but love each other because of those issues. I’m cynical about human relationships as well, but there’s something very beautiful in the simplicity of what Anderson does with his characters. It’s hard to see by just watching Rushmore. Bottle Rocket has it a little bit, but it hits with full force once you get to The Royal Tenenbaums. The POV that we are seeing at any one time serving that character goes to show how selfish we can be. Every one of Anderson’s characters, in every film, starts out as incredibly selfish; by the end, all the events and happenings coalesce into something less selfish and more…giving, I guess.

Ashley: I took that equation at the opening as an invitation to penetrate deeper beyond the facade of the characters, or even to think that what we see initially is only a projection, I think that’s where I failed from the start. I kept expecting more depth to these people and it never really delivered, but fleshing it out seems like that may have not even been the package Anderson was trying to send. The flawed characters definitely shine through, and that development was strong. I think Anderson is probably adept at his character building, though I didn’t see much change in them from the beginning to the end. I don’t think I saw as much of a change in their selflessness, which made my reaction to the film more negative. Not that characters have to be likeable or require a positive transformation for me to be invested in a film, but I struggle when it seems as though such a character is one I’m supposed to sympathize with.

Peter: You make a fair point about the equation at the start of the film; it is a projection, but it works for me. Max’s entire existence is a projection: of intelligence, of erudition, of maturity. He’s none of those things, and I do end up sympathizing with him by the end. His mother died when he was 7, and it seems that much of his disconnectedness stems from that moment. He has all of these groups that don’t really mean a thing, but it gives the illusion of being connected with others. His latching onto Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams) may not be as much from the attraction side of things as it is from needing a bit of a mother figure. For me, the two characters who need to change, do change: Max is less selfish, and Herman is less of a douchebag. But they change because they recognize those things about themselves.

Something else I’d like to bring up at this point, is Bill Murray. You said, “Bill Murray has the depth of a sheet of paper…”, and I can’t exactly disagree. However, I’d argue that he’s, once again, not trying to be deep. He’s Bill Murray. However, he works; Wes Anderson is a quirky director who makes quirky movies, and Bill Murray fits that quirk perfectly.

Ashley: Ok, so I’m working out that my issue may have been more with the intent behind each character’s changes, instead of whether or not they actually changed. Initially, I wasn’t seeing any change, but you’re right, definitely with Max that he changed, I just question why. Was it to be a better person after some self-reflection or is it to make his own life easier by changing the perception of himself to others? I struggled with character motivation a lot throughout the film.

There is a personal discrimination I have towards Bill Murray. I don’t like his acting style, and it hasn’t seemed to work for a character he’s portraying, for me, in anything I’ve seen of him. However, given the new consideration that the characters weren’t as deep as I was trying to make them, perhaps his style is fitting to the film and the character he was playing. It didn’t work for me, but that does help me see better that he served the film he was in adequately.

Peter: You know, I never really cared for Bill Murray until I started seeing him in Anderson films. There’s nothing that says you have to love Murray, or Anderson, obviously, but I sincerely hope you give the rest of Anderson’s filmography a chance. His films aren’t for everyone, but their simplicity is very touching. One thing I noticed in Rushmore was the recurrence of “glory”: the phrase sic transit gloria is used a number of times, Max’s mother’s headstone has the line from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard “The paths of glory lead but to the grave”, and the flowers that Max brings for Mr. Guggenheim (Brian Cox) are called ‘glorious’ by his wife. It’s just an interesting little thing; very subtle. But Max, in his selfishness, is about glory; the glory of being at Rushmore and of “accomplishing” so much there. But it really doesn’t mean much without the relationships.

Ashley: You’re right, and I really need to get over it. I have these three actors that really don’t work for me and I have a *groan* reaction when I see them in something and Bill Murray is one of them, but I shouldn’t let it interfere that way. The simplicity is another area I struggled with. I think I would appreciate the film, as a whole, more if I watch it again with a better understanding of the depth of the characters. I saw the simplicity angle at work, and it’s worked better for me elsewhere. I will definitely give his filmography a shot with an open mind, I fear that I may not like his quirky hyper-realism. For me, that cheapens the simplicity he’s going for, although, I do respect him staying true to his artistic vision. I love your read into the glory Max was going for throughout the film. I didn’t zone-in on the use of the word but one can tell Max is attempting to fill a void, no matter how immaturely he is going about it. You’re right to point out that he realizes by the end of the film that everyTHING he was attempting to achieve is meaningless without meaningful human relationships. That alone shows a growth of his character that I didn’t attribute to his journey before, so Anderson gets more credit there, from me. Despite my being skeptical of human relationships, I’m a staunch humanist so I appreciate the humanistic tendencies the film portrays.

Peter: After re-watching and discussing, would you change your one-star rating? Or do you still feel that the film just isn’t that good?

Ashley: I imagine, after this discussion, upon rewatch I would probably give the film an additional star. I appreciate where Anderson was coming from, or trying to achieve, but I still don’t think it was executed effectively.

Peter: It’s great that you’ll give another whole star; it’s more than I thought you’d do! But let me ask you this: do you think it’s possible, for you, to appreciate a director (or film) after seeing more of his/her work? I’m asking because this is basically what happened to me with Anderson, as I stated above with my feelings on Bottle Rocket and initial thoughts on Rushmore. Have you already experienced this kind of thing with someone else?

Ashley: I typically save those 1-star ratings for the really horrendous stuff like Jean-Luc Godard films 😉 so I wonder if I may land higher than 2-stars for Rushmore because I can see it being, as you mention, a film that benefits from multiple viewings. I often find myself appreciating a director more after I see more of their filmography. That’s the exact reason I do so many retrospective projects. It’s also the reason projects are “born”, for me, so quickly. I think the closest I have come to this recently is with the films of David Cronenberg. I still wouldn’t say I “like” his films, but after seeing more of his output I better understand what he’s doing and appreciate his artistic output.

Peter: So, what you’re saying is that you now love Wes Anderson and agree with me. Well, that’s all the time we have for today, folks!

Ashley: You’re jumping ahead a bit there, Peter.

Peter: Fair enough.


Thanks to Ashley for joining me in this discussion of Rushmore! Give her a follow on Twitter @oOoOoBarracuda. Look for us next time as we discuss Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le Métro, a film I couldn’t make it through on my first, and only, attempt.


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