When I was younger, I was never a big fan of movies. Sure, I enjoyed the occasional screening of a Disney classic, but I had never fallen in love with a movie before. That’s why in 2019, I decided to watch all the animated films nominated for the Oscars to try and find one I loved. There was a good selection, including Ralph Breaks the Internet, Incredibles 2, and Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. Although all those films were good, none of them made such an impact on me as Isle of Dogs. That movie was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Everything was clean, dynamic, and minimalistic, with a truly unique and amazing style. It was jarring, surreal, and a bit disorienting. I was mesmerized by the images and themes, and even long after the ending was over, the movie stayed with me. Three years later, Isle of Dogs remains my favorite film of all time. Intrigued by the stop-motion masterpiece, I watched other works by the director, Wes Anderson. And that’s when my love for movies began.
Wes Anderson has one of the most distinct styles in the cinematic business. Whether live-action or animated, fans can recognize his work with just a single shot. His iconic-ness can be chalked up to many components evident throughout all his films. Many directors have defining signature traits or a style of filmmaking that they repeatedly do. But when does a “signature trait” become a “signature style”? That’s what makes Anderson so unique.
For starters, all Wes Anderson films have an abundant amount of symmetry. If you pause any frame, everything is likely perfectly symmetrical on the screen or, at least, aligned with everything else in the frame. This symmetry provides a sense of balance to the film, as well as a sense of surrealism; most people don’t view the world through symmetry, and watching a movie through that lens, gives you a new take on the world around you. It makes society seem fantastical and different from real life. As symmetry applies to Anderson’s whole filmography, you get the sense that it’s an insight into his mind; it starts to feel like a personal embellishment, and the viewer becomes entirely immersed.
Take a look at the image to the left. Although the dogs do not look the same, making this shot asymmetrical, they are still lined up evenly and in proportion with each other. The black dog is centered, allowing the viewer to understand his exerting leadership and dominance, while the other dogs are titled slightly inward. The balance in this scene makes it clear that whatever the dogs are looking at, it’s important, and a great example of story-telling through symmetry.
This shot is almost perfectly symmetrical on both sides, except for one main difference; on the left, there are prisoners, while guards occupy the right. The disparity between the two sides is not lost on the viewer, and the symmetry and alignment amplify that. The clever juxtaposition also allows you to focus on the prisoner in the center without him overshadowing everyone else.
Additionally, Anderson has an acute sense of color, which adds dimension and depth to his work. A color palette creates mood and subtly adds emotion and feeling. Color can also give you information about a certain setting or even the characters themselves; the palette on the screen can truly influence the way you view what’s happening. Contrasting pallets can turn your focus to a specific object or different people or items. In most films, red means passion or danger, yellow connotes joy and insanity, while pink is innocence and beauty. However, Anderson flips this theory on its head. In serious scenes, he uses comforting “happy” colors like red or light blue, while happier scenes have significantly darker hues. With such a vivid and unique perspective, it differentiates Anderson’s films from other directors.
This image features a palette of warm colors and variants of red, yellow, and orange. The whole movie Fantastic Mr. Fox is filled with those hues, rarely venturing into the zone of cooler colors. The orange in the image encapsulates the desolation of both the landscape and Mr. Fox himself. Later in the movie, a similar color scheme adds to the feeling of love and family, showing how the same color can take drastically different meanings.
These colors are contrasting; they don't blend harmoniously, yet they complement each other perfectly. The woman in the center blends in slightly with the lighthouse, from her orange dress down to her white socks, making it so you don’t notice her at first glance. The colors in this frame have a sense of tranquility, but at the same time, they promote a sense of adventure.
One more component that differentiates Anderson from other directors is his use of music. In many movies, songs and scores are simply used to create a rhythm for certain scenes. Anderson doesn’t just add music, he uses music. He chooses the perfect song to add dimension to a scene, tell a story, and impact the plot in a vivid but subtle way. When he uses the song “I Won't Hurt You” by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band in the movie Isle Of Dogs, that particular scene is used to symbolize growth and connections; the choice of music is an essential part of getting that theme across. (If you haven’t seen that stunning and heartfelt scene, I recommend you watch it here.) Also, in the movie Royal Tenenbaums, the song “These Days” by Nico adds a perfect touch to the well-known “by way of the lime green bus” scene. The song adds an untold story hidden within the slow-motion sequence, as well as feelings and emotions. And, let’s be honest, Anderson just has amazing taste in music. I mean, he uses the song “Strangers” by the Kinks, AKA one of the best songs ever, so I will challenge anyone who opposes his taste in music.
Wes Anderson is truly a visionary. His directing style is so unique that no other directors have come close to rivaling it. His use of symmetry, color, and music are just small components of why his movies are so great. Anderson is direct, showing the viewer only what he wants you to see, and so he often relies on those three elements to provide context underneath the surface. I encourage you to watch his ten movies, and I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. If you’re unfamiliar with Wes Anderson, then watch a masterpiece like Isle Of Dogs. I guarantee that, like me, your love for movies will begin.