The Royal Tenenbaums, Or How I Stopped Worrying and Loved The Family Dysfunction

Throwback Thursday: Originally Written Independently, which was never posted online, circa Fall 2018

The reason why I love Wes Anderson’s body of work, and him specifically being my favorite director, isn’t because of his vibrant symmetrical and colorful aesthetic, nor his traditional deadpan comedic approach, but rather his punches at specific themes and messages which are hidden within the fluffy styling’s of all of his films. His messages can be best described as Human/Man Versus Subject.

  • In Bottle Rocket, It’s men VS the law
  • In Rushmore, it’s man VS societal expectations
  • In The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, it’s Man VS their own grief and sporadic revenge tendencies
  • In The Darjeeling Limited, it’s Human(s) VS their own privileges and identity
  • In Fantastic Mr. Fox, it’s Human(s) VS nature itself
  • In Moonrise Kingdom, it’s Human(s) VS young romantic bonds
  • In The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s Human(s) VS the social political climate and consequence of war
  • In Isle of Dogs, it’s Human(s) VS the challenges of adapting to culture and language via communication

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Out of all of Wes Anderson’s large body of work, his most apparent film out of his filmography, is easily The Royal Tenenbaums. Unlike any of his other flicks, the main focus and point of the film is Human(s) VS themselves and familiar bonds. Compared with Anderson’s other works, this film ends up being his most unpredictable. What Royal Tenenbaums aims to be in the long term is a biting look at the destructive tendencies of family dysfunction and the emotional consequence of the truth.

Seeing this film for the fourth time gave me a little bit of a new light on how I interpret relationships from an external perspective. The first time I saw this flick, was when I was about 10 years old, borderline entering grade five. My best friend and her family are huge fans of Anderson’s work (and still are), a director at the time which I had not heard of. So, they invited me over to watch the film. On my first viewing, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was a bit confused by the product. The overtly complex and the occasionally clumsily presented set pieces puzzled my young brain, when interpreting the various values and arcs detailed in the several adult conversations which appear throughout the film. This was also the first time, where I learnt about the emotional consequences and devastation of an attempted suicide, a subject which I may have been a bit too young to learn about at the time.

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Cut forward two years later, I gave the film another shot. Like with my experience with Fantastic Mr. Fox, Royal Tenenbaums aged incredibly well with time. Although I was still a tween when I was watching the film for a second helping, the several conversations and dialogue interchanges made sense, due to my maturing experiences with my own family and other friendships/relationships. Cut forward to yet another two years later in Grade 9, I saw the film once again. However, nothing really changed with my third viewing. Every opinion which I had when I was back in Middle School stood heavy ground, relating to the thematic weight and the… …pace of the film. Surprisingly enough, giving the film a fourth shot recently, didn’t add much insight into the mix, compared to what I was expecting.

This comes full circle, when I say that The Royal Tenenbaums is arguably Wes Anderson’s most accessible film, not because it’s has a much less fantastical and overly layered narrative, but due to relatability factor of all of the characters. All of the characters which co-exist in The Royal Tenenbaums are broken caricatures of their own corrupt universe. With Alec Baldwin’s mundane narration, what is supposed to be set up as a quirky world of colorful proportions and popular Beatles tunes, ends up being a grounded and realistic depiction at the social pressures of adapting to familiar first world norms. Within it’s double crossing romanticized plot lines and the occasional overuse of the conforming with “normal” behavior side-plots, Royal Tenenbaums makes an excellent point on the irrational behavior of one’s relationships. This includes how certain actions can affect someone’s psychological and physical thoughts, either if the person affected is a close relative or foreign acquaintance.

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Royal Tenenbaums aids these messages with it’s vibrant visual metaphors. From the consistent usage of the broken down Gypsy Cab (which slowly recovers from its physical state throughout it’s run time, in which it represents how the family bond comes closer together as characters slowly unify as one collective group), all the way to the Lab Rats (which represent the unpredictability of their DNA, similar too how each of the members of family are abused in some sort of way, either with trauma or physical/mental turmoil, in which each of the actions they commit sometimes feel out of character due to their destructive nature.) Not to mention the brilliant usage of nostalgic properties, such as the excellently compiled soundtrack, including hits such as Vince Guaraldi’s suave jazz Christmas pieces to the head bopping sounds of The Clash. Each of the songs are not just used for stylistic pleasure, but to pre-establish tone and pace.

While the film certainly becomes nauxious after it’s extraordinary first 75 minutes, relying on repetitive inconsistencies in character nature that neither adds nor develops on pre-established character arcs, the end product of the Royal Tenenbaums is an observant work of art that perfectly encapsulates the dysfunctionality and relationship gap’s when dealing with family and it’s various upsetting reunions.

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Film is like wine. It works best when it ages as time goes by. Each time I see The Royal Tenenbaums, I appreciate it more with each viewing. It’s a film which you slowly start understanding as time goes by. The conflicts which appear throughout the film, make more cohesive sense the older I get. This is easily Wes Anderson’s most grounded work. While it certainly isn’t his finest piece, it’s certainly something admire. The Royal Tenenbaums, here and forever more, will always have a sweet spot in my heart. It’s an incredibly compelling and honest film that’s void of any artificiality, which is something we need more nowadays.

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The Royal Tenenenbaums is.. well, already out on Home Video and Criterion, but you probably already know that already

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