A Community of Characters – the Narrative Self in the Films of Wes Anderson

By Brannon M. Hancock


1. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Antonio, Texas, as a part of a session entitled “Our Lives Teach Us Who We Are”: Issues of Identity, sponsored by the Religion, Film and Visual Culture group.

2. Mark Olsen. “If I Can Dream: The Everlasting Boyhoods of Wes Anderson.” Film Comment, 35/1 (January/February 1999).

3. Ibid.

4. For present purposes, I have not considered Wes Anderson’s most recent film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the theatrical release of which occurred between the writing and submission of this essay (USA release: December 2004). Although the themes of personhood and community discussed herein do surface, The Life Aquatic is Anderson’s first screenplay which is not a collaboration with Owen Wilson (although he does appear as a major character in the film) and as such represents a departure in Anderson’s oeuvre. For now, I have chosen to leave Anderson’s fourth film to be considered in another essay.

5. Pamela Colloff. “The New Kids: Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson.” Texas Monthly, 26/5. May, 1998.

6. Interview with Wes Anderson (Online source). See http://www.angelfire.com/ga/dogday/anderson.html

7. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. Rushmore (Foreword by James L. Brooks) . London: Faber and Faber, 1999. p. vii.

8. The stained-glass window metaphor is apt here, for while the lives (and in many cases psyches) of Anderson and Wilson’s characters appear fragmentary and even shattered from one perspective, from the proper vantage point (which the characters themselves always seem to find), the shards of glass compose a beautiful image through which the light of naïveté and innocence shines. It is the sort of brokenness that, in liturgical language, proceeds after the sacramental host has been taken and blessed – then broken that it might be given (See Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy. London: Dacre Press/Adam & Charles Black, 1945).

9. Marina Isola. “Interview with Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson.” 1996 (Online Source). See http://www.indexmagazine.com/interviews/wes_owen_anderson.shtml

10. Anderson and Wilson, Rushmore. p. 8.

11. I wish to acknowledge that I have borrowed hopeful imagination from Walter Brueggemann’s work which bears this phrase as its title. This aside, I have not drawn on his work for the purposes of this essay.

12. Wallace Stevens. Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction. Quoted in Mark C. Taylor , Hiding . Chicago and London: Chicago UP, 1997. p. 31.

13. Douglas Templeton. The New Testament as True Fiction. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. p. 209. Elsewhere Templeton writes: “Fiction, while it does not state, nevertheless embodies truth....Fiction, the term “fiction”, is wider than fact, because it can include fact” (p. 29). Further, “Literature differs from history as fiction differs from fact....History and literature are equally modes of dealing with, of finding language for, reality” (p. 305).

14. Friedrich Nietzsche. Ecce Homo. See Walter Kaufman’s The Basic Writings of Nietzsche. New York: Modern Library, 2000. p. 677.

15. See William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas. Lord, Teach Us. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996. p. 57.

16. Martin Buber. I and Thou. New York: Scribner, 1958. p. 64.

17. John D. Zizioulas . Being as Communion. Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985 . p. 107.

18. Augustine. Confessions (translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin). Middlesex: Penguin, 1961. § 8.7. p. 169.

19. Anderson and Wilson. Rushmore . p. 12.

20. Buber, op. cit . p. 45.

21. The coincidence of opposites or coincidentia oppositorum , where “all contradictions meet,” is attributed to Nicholas of Cusa from his work De Docta Ignorantia. See E. A. Livingstone, ed., Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford and New York: Oxford, 1996. p. 358.

22. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. Bottle Rocket. (To date this script remains unpublished, but is available on-line at www.littlebanana.com.)

23. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. The Royal Tenenbaums. London: Faber and Faber, 2001. p. 128.

24. Zizioulas, op. cit. p. 16.

25. Ibid. p. 97.

26. Anderson and Wilson. The Royal Tenenbaums. p. 150.

27. Zizioulas, op cit. p. 49.

28. Buber, op. cit. p. 11.

29. Stanley Hauerwas. A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic. Notre Dame and London: Notre Dame UP, 1981. p. 13.

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