Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rushmore (1998)

I once conceived the thesis that Wes Anderson's films were all secret adaptations of Salinger books.  I was thinking mainly of the Glass stories, but then again I always expected that when I finally got around to seeing Rushmore it would be Catcher in the Rye, in all but name. 

Late to the party again, I finally saw it, and of course it's not that.  Or at least, not just that.  There is a definite awareness, I think, of Holden Caulfield in Anderson's creation, but the divergences are as instructive as the convergences.

Like, the way the film begins, with Max yes-indeeding Herman's denunciation of the rich:  there's some Caulfield in there.  Until we realize that, unlike Holden, Max isn't a rich kid rebelling against the stultifying pressure of his own privilege, but a working-class kid who really has a right to feel that way.

I hesitate to proclaim that anything is something new;  I'm enough of a premodernist to know how rarely that claim is true.  But the particular dynamic that Anderson is delineating here feels fresh to me, feels like something unique.  That dynamic, as I see it, is this:  Max has had a lifelong fixation on the life of the private-school elite.  But not in any Talented Mr. Ripley sense - not because he's obsessed with wealth or privilege.  Not in so many words.  Rather, it's because all the absurdities of it fit him, spiritually, perfectly.  And he comes to feel he has a right to it simply because he can appreciate it, enjoy it, all so much more deeply than those who come by it naturally. 

It's not an exposé of a poseur.  It's not an excoriation of a climber.  What else is striking about it is how benign it is - for the most part.  The film has a satisfying undercurrent of unease, because we see that Max is capable of going too far in his obsession with Miss Cross, and we're always afraid he'll go far too far.  But in the end he's capable of self-reflection;  and more than that, he's capable of adjusting to being cast out of his own particular private-school Eden.  At the end we realize he'll probably be okay in public school.  The kid's alright.

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