Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wes Anderson and Race Relations

By Andrew E. Colarusso

Fantastic Mr. Fox was one of my favorite films of 2009. After having seen Rushmore while madly in love with my fourth grade teacher I can say, in all sincerity, that I am a fan of Wes Anderson's work. I consider him one of the more prolific cinematic auteurs of our generation. Certainly you can disagree. But the "Wes Anderson Aesthetic" is undeniable. So when Fantastic Mr. Fox arrived late in the year I had to see it. And I fell asleep on the shoulder of my friend Molly, occasionally waking up to a fox howling through a field followed by a possum with a sack of dead chickens or some such absurdity. A full yellow moon in a perfectly nightblue sky. It was boring, I thought, but a visual feast. He presents color so well in his films. Speaking of color...

There came a moment in Fantastic Mr. Fox where, having previously acknowledged a phobia of wolves, he encounters a wolf. In the distance, separated by an oddly placed tundra, stands a lone black wolf. Coal black with glowing eyes, which made for a striking chiaroscuro. Mr. Fox attempts to speak to the wolf, shouting over
the distance in several languages. Finally he comes to the conclusion that the wolf doesn't understand. So he raises his fist in a last ditch effort to communicate. The wolf understands this and raises his own fist in acknowledgment (an incredibly charming little scene).

They part ways. The raised fist is an international (arguably American) symbol of social dissent and commitment to the ongoing fight for civil rights. Think of the incredible statement made by John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. This is the Black Power Salute. So Wes Anderson is making light of a struggle older than the constitution itself through the absurd humor of anthropomorphic animals? It's not hard to imagine this image of Mr. Fox and the Lone Wolf as a larger metaphor for race relations. If it is, one may consider it respectful, in a way. Or tolerant, at least. Which is often a politically correct place holder for intolerance. If you're being tolerant--you're patiently eating the shit of the other (it has been said more poetically by a more apt theorist) But it reminded me of Booker T. Washington's 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech

"In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress"

Of course this could be the subject of a major dissertation, but I'll keep it as short as possible. Is Wes Anderson subtly espousing this philosophy of peaceful separation? Of simple tolerance? Of course we shouldn't extrapolate this image in his film to his own personal perspective (Danny Glover's presence in the Royal Tenenbaum's may have been a somewhat autobiographical depiction of Anderson's own stepfather) But is this profound and unexpected image (of Fox and Wolf separate, but equal) a symbol of reactionary ideals? How pervasive has this idea become among the people of our generation?

--Andrew E. Colarusso