14 Whimsical Motifs That Every Wes Anderson Film Has in Common


Like most directors, Wes Anderson, creator of newly released The Grand Budapest Hotel, has a distinctive style. Just as Michael Bay favors an excessive amount of explosions or Christopher Nolan enjoys messing with your head, so too does Wes Anderson love quirky comedy, Jason Schwartzman and vintage, monogrammed luggage.

Image Credit: Fox Searchlight

Since Anderson is only 44 years old (and looks perpetually 28) we figure we'll be seeing his favored motifs for awhile yet. So, in honor and adoration of his new movie, here are 14 motifs that define every Wes Anderson movie:

1. Nostalgia reigns supreme.

This is obvious, but it has to be No. 1 on our list because Anderson — and his movies — pretty much embodies nostalgia. Anderson's stories aren't told chronologically, meaning that the past and the present occupy the same space for this characters.

The same is true of him. More than one critic has noted that, like his films, Anderson might be a man "out of time in his own era."

2. Children's theater is of existential importance.

The meta nature of Anderson's films wouldn't be complete without a performance-within-a-performance — whether that's Margot's animals, Suzy's flood or Max's Vietnam (who could forget Heaven and Hell). His films are all about acting your age, with a pretty big emphasis on the acting of it all. In his movies, adults behave like children, and children dress like adults.

3. People find family in the strangest places.

We don't want to speculate on Anderson's childhood and home life (other people have already given us the facts on that), but his films consistently center on the importance of and interaction between families.

For example, films like The Darjeeling Limited and The Royal Tenenbaums center on the connection or attempt to re-connect between siblings. In other movies, most notably Moonrise Kingdom, mentors becoming surrogate fathers. And, of course, throughout it all, everybody is pretty confused.

4. People speak very strangely.

Three adjectives to describe Anderson's dialogue style: exact, understated and matter-of-fact. A lot of silly dialogue is delivered in a very serious way and vice versa — sort of like your stereotypical conversation with a philosophy major.

5. Art is as important than anything.

Anderson's films are a classic case of art loving art — basically of art loving itself. His films are full of charmingly obscure references to old music, theater, literature, paintings and photography.

Considering that Anderson has been producing films since 1996, long before ironic vintage was mainstream, he has now been dubbed the original hipster.

6. Love is timeless.

Even though he focuses on disjointed families, every Anderson film features the loss and discovery of love. Rather than standard rom-com silliness (serenades, goofily misguided acts of love), Anderson favors letter writing and sincere pronouncements that manage to fall somewhere between satire and fairy tale.

Most of all, Anderson's love stories are incredibly endearing because, like so many other elements in his films, they transcend age: Sam and Suzy find true love; Margot and Richie; and Max and Rosemary. Anyone can do it.

7. Obsessed, self-absorbed characters.

In an Anderson film, there's always at least one character who is completely obsessed with their current (usually creative) obsessive project or mission.

It's Owen Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums, Owen Wilson (again) in The Darjeeling Limited, Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic, Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore or Owen Wilson (again) in Bottle Rocket. Frankly, it's probably also Wes Anderson in all of those movies.

8. Everything is extraordinarily rectilinear.

Anderson once reported that, had he not become a filmmaker, he would have liked to be an architect. It's pretty easy to imagine what sort of houses we would be living in if he were — just look at Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums and, of course, The Grand Budapest HotelOld houses, with gables and many straight lines.

9. When being whimsical, everyone dresses in khaki shorts.

See: above and the entirety of Moonrise Kingdom.

Also note: Even when embracing capitalism and trying to sell cellphones to the Japanese or American Express cards, lovable Volkswagen bugs, delightful French music and metatextual narratives within narratives must be involved. The man is nothing if not consistent.

10. Everything crazy is completely normal.

Everybody associates Anderson with deadpan comedy, and this is at the root of the style.

He has become an undisputed master of ridiculous situations presented as normal, everyday happenings. In his fantastic world there are grand escapades, artists completing their pièce de résistance at the age of 13 and falcons. But more than anything, these things are accepted by his world with the utmost seriousness and a kind of "nothing to see here" attitude.

11. The motif of Bill Murray (minus 'Bottle Rocket').

While nothing in the world could ever top the comedic glory of Ghostbusters, the fact that Anderson has a ceaseless supply of scenes that showcase Bill Murray's timeless deadpan is really a gift to the world.

Minus Anderson's first film, Bottle Rocket, Murray has had a role in every Anderson film, including The Grand Budapest Hotel, and is, according to Anderson, "central" to his movie family.

12. Children are more adult than adults.

Most filmmakers like to treat the children in their films like children, but not Wes Anderson. In an Anderson film you can be assured that all characters — no matter their age — speak like a college professor and wear a lot of dinner jackets. Rushmore is probably the classic example, but Sam Shakusky from Moonrise Kingdom is also pretty damn impressive.

In fact, his hyper-intelligent children are often more adult than the adults who guide them.

13. Animation is as real as real life.

The interaction between hyper-stylized fantasy a la animation and reality on the silver screen has been around much longer than people realize (since the silent era, actually). 

It was memorably perfected in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Farscape episodes, Harry Potter films, and of course, the tragicomedy musing of Anderson. The best example being The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and the adorable animated fish that stand in contrast to Zissou's scientific research, underscoring the "kidult" atmosphere in all of Anderson's films.

14. Everything turns out OK.

Because an Anderson film usually features an ensemble cast and a sprawling plot line, not every character can have a happy ending. But even if the great masterpiece is unfinished — or the man-eating shark lives on, or a major character dies in a fiery ocean helicopter crash — there's still some peace, or better yet, self-realization at the end of the story.