The Wes Anderson formula
For over 20 years, Wes Anderson has diligently nurtured a visual style and aesthetic that sets him above all other contemporary directors. It is a precise style, straddling the border between ineffable and inscrutable. It works so well that his films have grown better year on year, from Bottle Rocket to The Grand Budapest Hotel. In this post, we dissect the formula of this shy genius.
The one-point perspective
The first element of Anderson’s style we need to discuss is his use of the one-point perspective. Since the making of Rushmore in 1998, it’s become an especially potent part of his formula. Pioneered by the late Stanley Kubrick and Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, one-point perspective is essentially the most mathematically precise point, finding perfect symmetry.
The one-point perspective has its roots in the Golden Ratio, first articulated by the Ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato. They described it as the divine proportion, the point at which beauty is created. Further mathematical theorising by the likes of philosopher Heinrich Agrippa and astronomer Michael Maestlin et al cemented this.
For Wes Anderson, the one-point perspective is the force which draws everything neatly together.
A particularly striking aspect of Anderson’s formula is his studious creation of two realities, which inevitably merge in a seamless display of directorial beauty. Once more, it’s down to Anderson’s mathematical brain that helps to distinguish this, as Jeffery Sutterer explains in The Odyssey Online:
“Characters are followed around immaculately designed sets that at once create an unreality due in part to their overly symmetric design and color scheme, both of which feel artificial but believable in whatever world Anderson has placed the film in.”
Artificial, yet at the same time believable is the best description; for example, take the world he created for ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ in 2001. It was a story based in Manhattan, yet at the same time it wasn’t. It was even unclear as to which decade in history the film was set in, with artifacts from the 1960’s to the present day all melded together. Also, every character will always end up carving out his or her own reality by the conclusion of the film.
The colours of a Wes Anderson film are never dull and it ties into the above components. The colour palate is always made up of saturated primary hues, propelling his audience into a dreamlike world. The myriad colours drenching each film create a hypnotic effect.
The art historical
Both pop and high culture are equally important for Anderson. Whether it’s music, art, literature, cinema or simply references uttered by his characters, the art historical is always firmly in place.
In the short teaser ‘Hotel Chevalier’, starring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman, which came just before ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, we see a tiny print of Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough in Schwartzman’s room, a link to the plot of love and love lost. In ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, which is partly inspired by the Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, a painting of him sits above the seats in the brothers train compartment. In ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, there are several references to the German author Stefan Zweig, such as locks etc, to which Anderson has credited the film.
Both his lovers or detractors will always speak of Anderson’s ability to create films of enthusiastic eccentricity. He hits the right notes with each character, as their eccentricity never overshadows their inevitable humanity and raw sense of emotion. Heavily stylised and with layer after sumptuous layer, Wes Anderson’s formula never fails to ignite a passion in cinema goers.