The Royal Tenenbaums – Mise en Scène

The most incredible thing about Wes Anderson is that every single thing that comes within the frame is deliberate – there are no mistakes, no accidentals. Perhaps this is why his work is so recognizable; his aesthetic and attention to detail is so distinct that it is impossible to miss. Although I’ve only had the pleasure of watching two of his films previously (The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom), even I have become aware of Anderson’s characteristics.

I now realize that the word I’ve been looking for all this time to describe what Anderson is a master of (and not just simply film) is mise en scène. Our book describes the four “major components” of this “integrated design program…: setting, the human figure, lighting, and composition” (92). Upon further research, I discovered that The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) was filmed in New York but there is very little obvious evidence that the Tenenbaums live in this real world (Anderson apparently placed Kumar Pallana [the actor who plays Pagoda] directly in front of the Statue of Liberty so it would not be seen). In terms of casting, we see actors and actresses with whom we are overwhelmingly familiar, particularly within the comedy realm; this kind of typecasting helps us find certain comedic moments even more laughable. Of course, figure placement, movement, costume, props and makeup all benefit the story-line of the Tenenbaums as well – every tennis trophy in the background, every cigarette Margot draws on does not go unnoticed. But I consider Wes Anderson the greatest expert in composition. He loves his centered shots, symmetrical design, and geometric lines. His films even appear to be connected through their color correction.

I’d also like to note here that Wes Anderson’s cinematographer – Robert Yeoman – is a Duke graduate. Together, they’ve also utilized unique methods of camera movement repeatedly throughout a span of several years to contribute to that “Wes Anderson aesthetic” (including whip zooms, 90-degree pans, and long tracking shots). This is my favorite part of reading film, but in particular, Anderson’s films.


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