Film Discussion

Isle of Dogs: Between the lines with Wes Anderson

My favourite Wes Anderson film is always the one I’ve watched most recently, which makes ranking them a near-impossible task. But I can pinpoint quintessential moments from those movies through dialogue that sounds as colourful and painstaking as the intricate sets and precise camera moves used to get them across. So in lieu of attempting to rate the writer/director Anderson’s eight feature films, here are some top-notch lines from those that came before Isle of Dogs.

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Grace (Shea Fowler): “You’ve never worked a day in your life. How can you be exhausted?”

One of the finest hallmarks of Anderson’s work from a screenplay standpoint – he penned this with co-lead Owen Wilson – has been the ability to make his characters imperfect protagonists. They’re not going to say everything right, they’re not going to do everything right and that not only makes them more interesting but gives Anderson and company infinite directions to take them in.

Runners-up: Dignan (Owen Wilson) (in response to Kumar Pallana’s Kumar saying he’s lost his touch): “Did you ever have a touch to lose, man?”
Anthony (Luke Wilson): “I don’t expect you to be as depressed as I am. But I don’t think your happiness is quite appropriate.”
Dignan: “There, you see the star is me, right there, and I’ll be in there. The X is Anthony. Bob, you’re the zero out here in the car.”
Dignan: “Everybody wants to know what’s next. May I enjoy this moment?”

Rushmore (1998, co-written with Owen Wilson)

Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) finds out rival/foil Herman Blume (Bill Murray) served in Vietnam.
Max: “Were you in the shit?”
Blume: “Yeah, I was in the shit.”

Another hallmark of Anderson films plays off the earlier protagonist sentiment. Since the characters have different shadings, and at different times can be the hero or the goat of the film, then it becomes more difficult to stand behind one character for the run of the film. When Max begrudgingly gains a measure of respect for Blume, the viewer can do that in much the same vein.

Runners-up: Max: “The secret, I don’t know … I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then… do it for the rest of your life. For me, it’s going to Rushmore.”
Bert (Seymour Cassel) (in response to Luke Wilson’s Dr. Flynn thinking he’s a neurosurgeon) “No, I’m a barber, but a lot of people make that mistake.”
Max: ” I saved Latin. What did you ever do?”
Rosemary (Olivia Williams) (to Max): “You know, you and Herman deserve each other. You’re both little children.”

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, co-written with Owen Wilson)

Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman): “Look, I know I’m going to be the bad guy on this one, but I just want to say the last six days have been the best six days of probably my whole life.”
Narrator (Alec Baldwin): “Immediately after making this statement, Royal realised that it was true.”

Anderson introduces the concept of a narrator here and finds a way to make the device seem more than merely supplementary or explanatory. His narrator invariably gets some of the best lines, reflecting on the past or the future as much as whatever is happening on screen at that given moment, delving into both the obvious conscious and percolating unconscious elements of the story.

Runners-up: Royal (telling the story of his friendship with Pallana’s Pagoda): “He saved my life, you know. Thirty years ago. I was knifed at a bazaar in Calcutta, and he carried me to the hospital on his back. (Then, in response to his grandson asking who stabbed him) … He did. There was a price on my head, and he was a hired assassin. Stuck me in the gut with a shiv.”
Henry (Danny Glover): “I don’t think you’re an asshole, Royal. I just think you’re kind of a son of a bitch.”
Royal: “Anybody interested in grabbing a couple of burgers and hittin’ the cemetery?”
Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) (after Royal tells her Henry isn’t her father): “Neither are you.”

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004, co-written with Noah Baumbach):

Pelé dos Santos (Seu Jorge): “Meu amor não estamos sós
Tem um mundo a esperar por nós
No infinito do céu azul
Pode ter vida em Marte.”

Anderson has also become masterful at picking out music cues as well. Here Jorge delivers Portuguese renditions of David Bowie tunes. “Life on Mars,” “Starman,” “Space Oddity” and the others transport the story outside our comfort zone. We know what’s going on because we know the English translation of the words, but the foreign language imbues the proceedings with a fable-like quality.

Runners-up: Zissou (Bill Murray): “Don’t point that gun at him, he’s an unpaid intern.”
Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum): “They made soup out of my research turtles.”
Zissou (to ex-wife Eleanor, played by Anjelica Huston): “You know I’m not good at apologizing, so I’ll just skip it if it’s all the same to you. … Anyway, I’m sorry. I know I haven’t been my best this past decade.”
Zissou: “You caught me with one foot off the merry-go-round tonight.”

The Darjeeling Limited (2007, co-written with Roman Coppola and Schwartzman)

Patricia (Huston): “Maybe we could express ourselves more fully if we say it without words.”

The irony here is that this film is chock full of great verbal moments, having four runners-up doesn’t seem like near enough. The energies of all three leads — Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Schwartzman — seem so different on the surface but mesh together so well. Exactly like real brothers would, right? The building blocks of Anderson’s next three films are laid down here like literary train tracks.

Runners-Up: Jack (Schwartzman): “I love you too, but I’m gonna mace you in the face!”Brendan (Wally Wolodarsky): “We haven’t located us yet.”
Peter (Brody): “I’m gonna go pray at another thing.”
Jack: “Stop including me!”

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, co-written with Baumbach from Roald Dahl’s novel)

Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney): “Your tractors uprooted my tree. Your posse hunted my family. Your gunmen kidnapped my nephew. Your rat insulted my wife … and you shot off my tail. I’m not leaving here without that necktie.”

Leave it to Anderson spin his cinematic kaleidoscope in what traditionally had been family fare containing songs destined to be nominated for Oscars. And just when it seems the richness of Anderson’s other films enable the supporting characters to steal all the scenes, in comes a Clooney-voiced performance that completely shows otherwise. That Meryl Streep is no slouch either.

Runners-Up: Mrs. Fox (voiced by Streep): “In the end, we all die. Unless you change.”
Ash (voiced by Schwartzman): “There’s a lot of attitudes going on around here… don’t let me get one.”
Kylie (voiced by Wolodarsky): “We already know who they are, because they’re trying to kill us.”
Mrs. Fox: “If what I think is happening is happening … it better not be.”

Moonrise Kingdom (2012, co-written with Coppola)

Sharp (Bruce Willis): “I can’t argue against anything you’re saying. But then again, I don’t have to, ’cause you’re 12 years old. Look, let’s face it, you’re probably a much more intelligent person than I am. In fact, I guarantee it. But even smart kids stick their finger in electrical sockets sometimes.”

Anderson builds upon his newly discovered penchant for tweaking the status quo with a story seemingly tailored to the younger set that is far better understood by a more mature audience. Only when we have the years behind us can we really understand first love beyond the strange and wonderful yearnings that initially well up. No matter how bright the child, that’s surely better appreciated down the road.

Runners-Up: Sam: (Jared Gilman): “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Suzy: (Kara Hayward) (explaining how she hurt her hand): “I lost my temper at myself.”
Mr. Bishop (Murray): “Our daughter’s been abducted by one of these beige lunatics!”
Mrs. Bishop (Frances McDormand) (responding to her daughter’s claim that her lover is a sad, dumb policeman) “He’s not dumb … but I guess he is kind of sad.”

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, story co-written with Hugo Guinness)

M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes): “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant … oh, fuck it.”

The Grand Budapest Hotel seemed to draw from all of Wes Anderson’s previous efforts. The ground work carefully put in place by the previous six films blended into a story that combined all those elements — a wise narrator, the intelligence and bravado of youth finding first love, a ne’er-do-well hero and pithy observations about the nature of people across the board — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Runners-Up: M. Gustave (halted in the middle of his final words when Tony Revolori’s Zero pushes their assassin off a cliff): “Holy shit! You got him!”
Young writer (Jude Law): “At that moment the curtain rose on a parenthetical, domestic drama which required the immediate and complete attention of M. Jean … but, frankly, did not hold mine for long.”
M. Gustave (hearing Zero’s perfect poem recitation): “Very good! I’m going to stop you there because the alarm has sounded, but remember where we left off, because I insist you finish later.”
Kovacs (Goldblum): “Did he just throw my cat out of the window?”

Revisiting this completely unique body of work only stokes the anticipation for Anderson’s latest effort, Isle of Dogs. He wrote the screenplay with story assistance from Coppola, Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura. How will he be able to top what seemed to be a pinnacle in this stop-motion animated movie? I’m not sure, but he has done it before and give us every confidence to believe he can do it again.

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