For a film to be categorized as a “must-watch” it usually has to have incredibly emotional poignancy, impressive production, or a critical lesson for the viewers to learn from. Rushmore has all of this. Although the message of Wes Anderson’s 1998 film is important for all generations of viewers, its message is much more crucial for older teenagers to see. Rushmore tells the story of a high-school boy who struggles with immaturity; the film captures the human experience with power and proficiency. Through its adept production and cinematography, Rushmore displays an emotional story and teaches a lesson that rivals all other timeless movies and makes it a must-watch for all maturing adolescents.
When the movie begins, our protagonist, Max Fischer (portrayed by Jason Schwartzman), only loves one thing--Rushmore, a private school where Max is facing potential expulsion for poor grades caused by over-involvement in extracurriculars. Early in the film’s first act he discovers a new love--the first grade teacher, Ms. Cross (portrayed by Olivia Williams). Around the same time, he meets Herman Blume (portrayed by Bill Murray), a father of two boys who also attend Rushmore. When he meets Ms. Cross, he falls in love as well. Max and Herman thus begin to battle each other, and their own immaturity as they fight for her favor.
Wes Anderson’s style has always been recognizable and remarkable, and Rushmore is no exception. In Anderson’s sophomore film, he blends his style with substance in a perfect mixture to create striking images that create a foundation for an emotionally gripping story. Around the middle of the second act, Max returns to Rushmore after being expelled and sets ablaze a bonfire outside the headmaster’s window to vent his anger. This scene, from description alone, already carries a great emotional weight; however, the way Anderson shoots the scene shows how much a director’s vision can add to a screenplay’s power.
In fig. 1, the eye is drawn to the center of the frame due to the fire being the brightest object in the shot. This shows how much Max’s emotions are being put into this object and how his focus is solely on this anger. In the shot that follows (fig. 2) the headmaster is the darkest object in the frame, showing how Max no longer cares about the headmaster’s opinions on him. (This is shown more clearly in the following shot where Max can be seen throwing a vulgar gesture in his direction). Also, not that this holds any narrative significance, Anderson’s technical art skill is shown in the asymmetrical balance of placing Max on the right of the fire, that is in the center of the frame, with the bench, that is approximately the same size as Max, on the left. Anderson’s attention to detail never fails and truly displays the artistry in using film to display elements of a story that aren’t easily expressed with words.
The story that is expressed within Rushmore is immensely evocative. Although Max is presented as an incredibly immature protagonist right from the get-go, you can’t help but love and root for him. The film gives you plenty of reasons--from Jason Schwartzman's amazing appeal he brings to the character, to heartfelt lines such as when Herman asks him the secret to his happiness and he replies, “The secret, I don't know... I guess you've just gotta find something you love to do and then... do it for the rest of your life. For me, it's going to Rushmore.” Although Max comes off as an ambitious and charismatic kid, he’s proven early on to be a habitual liar. In fact, as described by Mark Ryall, creator of the film commentary website, ScreenTime.ie, the audience first learns about a key element of Max’s character very early in the story. When talking with Ms. Cross, she brings up her dead husband, and Max then tells her that his mother is dead. This should be a shock for the viewer; however, he has already used this sort of lie prior to this when he was trying to impress Herman. The way that Max handles this grief plays a key role in the film but isn’t revealed to be the truth until about the halfway point. Along with Rushmore tackling grief head on, it also takes a look at loneliness. Both Max and Herman so desperately want to be with Ms. Cross, but it’s in Herman, who’s currently in the middle of a failing marriage, where we see this emotion fully displayed. During one scene, Herman and Max are in a hospital elevator together. Herman is drinking a beer that he has stored in his jacket pocket and is smoking two cigarettes at the same time, and if these visual cues weren’t enough, Herman states it plainly, “I’m a little bit lonely these days.” The dark humor of seeing a man with two cigarettes admit to only a being a bit lonely truly accentuates the emotional resonance Rushmore can carry.
Lastly, Rushmore holds its ground as a must-watch in the way it teaches the lesson of maintaining maturity in the manner of love. Max, from the moment he meets Ms. Cross, expects her to love him back. He doesn’t know how he’ll get there, but he knows that’s how it will end. It’s not a goal for him. It’s the finish line that he is going to reach, no matter how long it takes. Ms. Cross tells him that she’s not interested numerous times and it doesn’t click until she is explicitly clear. Upon this, Max takes some time alone and reevaluates how he’s treated her. He realizes how disrespectful he was and then begins to place that energy in Herman’s relationship with Ms. Cross and Margaret Yang, a girl from Max’s new school, who has been trying to get his attention ever since he was expelled from Rushmore. The way that Anderson displays this immature behavior is rare and talked about very little in the entertainment industry, yet it’s a big issue when it comes to youthful romance. He readjusts the viewers frame of mind by showing the blatant immaturity that Max’s mindset encapsules, suggesting a solution, and how to proceed after the problem has been solved.
Although the “R” rating would suggest this film is intended for an older audience, this film needs to be watched by those in their final years of high school. Rushmore presents a hopeful story of a boy overcoming his own immaturity. The story is told beautifully through cinematography so powerful and a script so emotionally charged and enlightening that it must be viewed by all.
Rushmore. Directed by Wes Anderson, American Empirical Pictures and Touchstone Pictures, 1998.
Ryall, Mark. “The Worlds of Wes Anderson: Rushmore and the Darjeeling Limited.” ScreenTime.ie, 15 Jan. 2017, screentime.ie/worlds-wes-anderson- 2-rushmore-darjeeling/.