Jul 25, 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Royal Tenenbaums

*This post is part of Nathaniel’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot Series at The Film Experience and contains SPOILERS.

One of the things I really appreciate about Wes Anderson’s films is their distinctive visual identity. I admit upfront that I’m not his biggest fan; I’ve always found his work to lack an emotional punch, though his last two films – Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom – have shown significant improvement in that department. But irrespective of what one thinks of his films, I’d argue that all it takes is looking at a single frame from any of them to recognize the man behind the camera. With dioramic settings, flattened central compositions, costumes perfectly coordinated with the decoration and brightly saturated colours, Anderson has created an aesthetic character for his work that belongs only to him.

The Royal Tenenbaums, one of Anderson’s stronger films, is filled with such delicious images. I could have chosen any of the shots featuring the identically clothed Ari and Uzi for their sheer comic value, or any of the ones featuring a desolate Gwyneth Paltrow with a cigarette in her hand. In the end, the shot I found myself drawn to the most was the one that moved me the most.

Richie (Luke Wilson), former tennis professional who’s heartbroken ever since his adopted sister and love interest married another man, enters the bathroom. He stands in front of the mirror and cuts, first, his long hair, then his beard, and then his wrists. Though Wilson’s dialogue portends what’s about to happen, the outcome still comes as a shock both because of its graphic nature and because in a film with generally manufactured emotions, it feels uncharacteristically, intensely real.


  1. I don't know if I was overreaching, but I found that the hair covering the sink seemed to be a nod at a zebra's black stripes on white surface - evocative, of course, of Margot which made the moment (still gruesome, of course) just a little bit poetical, and even - dare I say - beautiful.

  2. I can't look at this picture anymore without thinking of the zebra connection.
    I think the shot is beautiful though, visually speaking. You're right in thinking that :)

  3. Awesome choice. More and more I think that this is maybe the key image/moment of Anderson's career. The matter of fact treatment of death (or the possibility of it) - and man's inevitable mortality - is something that he's revisited in all of his films since Tenenbaums, but I don't think he's ever topped the sheer power of the image you've highlighted here. I remember the first time I saw the film and the reaction when the blood first started flowing - loud, simultaneous gasps of shock from all over the packed theater. A couple people jumped up and ran out. Powerful stuff.

  4. I wish I'd seen it in the theatres. It never screened where I lived at the time, but memories like that are the best part of going to the movies for me.