Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Genius in the Works of Wes Anderson

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The Suicide of Genius: Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson in Life and Art. At 24LiesaSecond, via The House Next Door.

The subtext of The Royal Tenenbaums is one of collisions. The sanctified world of genius, creativity and art collide with the world of contemporary psychology. Diagnosis, psychosis, breakdown, and divorce emerge like a hydra in the wings of Anderson’s work. And the point of collision is Eli Cash, played by Owen Wilson. Through Cash, Anderson’s tragic-comedic vision reaches its apex and foreshadows its decline into sentimentality and self-apologetic quirk.

Of course, as an unrepentant Wes Anderson fanboy, I don’t agree that his later works are failures in this or any other way—but the thesis is interesting. And I think there’s something to Lasky’s idea that Anderson shifts in Tenenbaums from a model of autonomous, tragedy-laced genius towards a comparatively more hopeless one of psychological and psychochemical dysfunction:

Genius, in their early work, is ineffable, resplendent with the trappings of depressive, rumple-haired Nietzschean eccentricity and Faustian striving and discontent. Anderson as writer/director and Wilson as writer/actor depict the creative spirit that defies diagnosis as it is ratified by its own insatiable drive, as it rebels against social pressures and cultural environments. Conversely, the therapeutic imperative of our contemporary society is to contextualize and diagnose, to encourage radical self-assessment in hopes of propagating permanent stability and happiness. As of late, Anderson’s original vision has been compromised by this imperative: his idea of the troubled genius has lost its romantic cache. Its integrity as a thing of heroism and beauty has been ostensibly diagnosed.

This may go a long way towards explaining why Rushmore is so much better-loved than Zissou.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 21, 2008 at 5:37 pm

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