After more than two years without a full-length feature from director Wes Anderson, fans of Anderson's work were delighted to see the recent release of a trailer for Anderson's upcoming project, Isle of Dogs.
There is little I can say about Isle of Dogs that isn't revealed in the trailer, so instead of writing about the animation, the actors, and the plot, I will focus instead on the director himself and reflect on what makes an Anderson film an Anderson film.
Wes Anderson is best described as a "metteur en scène" director. Metteur en scène refers to a setter of scenes. The films of a metteur en scène director are linked through recurring similarities, whether it be similar visual depictions of the various cinematic worlds, similar characters, similar pacing, and/or similar overarching themes and motifs. In the case of Wes Anderson, his films mirror one another in all of these respects.
Anderson chooses a specific color palette for each of his films and sticks to this palette throughout the duration of the film. The colors function to ground viewers in the setting, but at the same time work to embellish the world and bring out the best elements of that particular setting. For example, The Darjeeling Limited (2007) is set aboard a train traveling through India. Some directors choose to depict India as only a hot, arid country filled with sun-scorched deserts; Anderson, however, takes a different approach. To enter Anderson’s India is to enter a kaleidoscope. He presents his India as a wondrous country full of striking, bold colors and abundantly rich in beauty. Anderson solidifies this beauty through his symmetrical shots, which he uses in all of his films. Characters and objects will often take up the center of the frame. The symmetry is so well done that viewers are not aware of how strict the symmetry is until they go out of their way to look for it.
As for the characters that fill Anderson’s movies, they are all very similar in the fact that each has something unique or strange about their personality. This quirkiness can be found in all of his characters, even those that seem relatively normal. For instance, in Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Mrs. Fox likes to paint. This in itself seems normal, but on closer inspection, viewers find that she loves to paint lightning storms in otherwise serene scenes. Perhaps Anderson is speaking to the idea that every person has unique quirks that set them apart from others.
Anderson’s films are character-driven. He tends to focus more on the growth of his characters and the evolving relationships between his characters rather than the actual narrative unfolding on the screen. This can result in what some would refer to as a slow-moving plot. Anderson’s intention is to immerse his viewers in the world of his characters and have the audience live in an experience other than their own, if only for an hour or so. Rather than hitting concrete plot points and destinations, Anderson focuses on the journey of his characters, and how certain events along that journey affect them.
Finally, all of Anderson’s films include either the absence of a father or are centered around a weak father-figure. Both The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom (2012) include characters who have lost their respective fathers. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) revolves around a man trying to strengthen his relationship with his estranged father, who has fallen into what can only be described as a midlife crisis. And in Fantastic Mr. Fox, Mr. Fox is struggling with a pride complex. He too has fallen into a midlife crisis and, instead of settling into his role as a father, chooses to risk his family’s security so he can relive what he believes were his best days.
In viewing the trailer for Isle of Dogs, it is fair to say that Wes Anderson will make use of his familiar symmetrical shots and popping color palette. I encourage viewers to be on the lookout for the other similarities mentioned in this article as they may make an appearance in this film. Isle of Dogs is set to enter theaters in 2018, although there is a possibility that there will be an earlier screening at the Chattanooga Film Festival (although 2018 CFF films have yet to be announced). In the meantime, I will be enjoying a trip down Anderson lane as I patiently await his upcoming film.