Wes Anderson and Steven Spielberg use science fiction in the same way

Deep in its closing credits, Wes Anderson’s new movie asteroid city has an unexpected name. In the “special thanks” section at the end of the reels, listed alongside Anderson’s friends and former collaborators like Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, is Steven Spielberg, the most commercially successful director. All Time. The two filmmakers seem quite different: Spielberg is best known for making mass-entertainment films, whether in the form of adventure thrillers, fantasy, or sober journeys through the horrors of the 20th century. Anderson known for meticulously constructing stand-alone comic book worlds. With asteroid cityHowever, their connection becomes more apparent: Both use science fiction to explore the loss and melancholy of broken families.

Anderson isn’t known as a sci-fi or fantasy director — but then that’s no longer Spielberg’s main genre. Aside from any cracks in the fact that his movies seem to take place entirely on another planet, Anderson’s last public sci-fi film was 2018’s slow-motion tale. dog islandwhile in 2014 Grand Budapest Hotel contains elements of fantasy and alternate history, and 2004 Life Underwater with Steve Zissou there are fictional, fictional creatures. asteroid city can credit Spielberg as it was inspired by the 1977s Close encounters of the third typeSpielberg’s first true science fiction film: When an alien ship made contact with humans in the American desert in asteroid cityslightly imitated event Close the meeting.

A mostly glass spaceship hovers above a crowd of people sitting in a crater in a shot lit only by eerie blue light in Wes Anderson's Asteroid City

Alien encounter in asteroid city.
Image: Focus feature

Close the meeting famously ends with a journey that Spielberg thought he wouldn’t be comfortable with later in his career – Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) definitively leaves his wife and children, stepping into a spaceship visit and fly to space with its mysterious creatures. towards unknown points. (Technically, Roy’s family has left him at this point due to his obsession with aliens, but leaving Earth makes him feel a little more definitive.) In asteroid city, the aliens don’t use too much material power on the central family, led by Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman). The mother of four Augie has passed away, though involuntarily. A few weeks before their desert trip, she was battling a disease that sounded like cancer, and on the day the aliens visited, Augie finally broke the news to her children.

However, the alien encounter changes the Steenbeck family, especially Augie’s teenage son Woodrow (Jake Ryan), who is both fascinated and alarmed by the idea that humans are not. alone in this universe. Evidence of our potential importance overwhelms him. It’s a remarkable response, because Anderson’s characters often seem to actively counter that sense of smallness, obsessing over their own interests or worlds as a way to gain control in a world. messy, unpredictable. Woodrow’s grief for his mother is entirely consistent with his crisis of faith, because few things make you feel as messy or unsettling as changes to your family.

That’s something Spielberg is particularly well aware of and is something that almost always appears in his sci-fi films. ET aliens tells the story of a family torn apart by divorce: A father has moved away, leaving his struggling ex-wife and son Elliott (Henry Thomas) feeling insecure and lonely. by Spielberg War of the Worlds gives another absentee dad a (scary) chance to get his parenting job back in the midst of a deadly alien attack. Minority Report gives a more devoted father (played by the same actor, nothing more!) a form of closure after a heavy loss. Artificial Intelligence AIProbably Spielberg’s best and boldest sci-fi film yet, it’s about a cyborg boy who is programmed to emulate family love, then walks away when the family he serves is no longer needed. He fills a specific void in their lives.

Teenage boy Woodrow Steenbeck (Jake Ryan) and his triplets, three young girls, sit arrayed in front of a pale-white desert motel in Wes Anderson's Asteroid City

Woodrow (Jake Ryan) and his three sisters learn of their mother’s death in asteroid city.
Image: Focus feature

Like Spielberg’s work in this genre, Anderson’s sci-fi stories often feature families that are already fractured early in the film. Atari (Koyu Rankin) lost his parents in the first place dog islandThe most important thing for him is that he must get his dog and best friend Spots (Liev Schreiber) back from the exiled island. (It’s similar to the protective zeal Elliott feels for ET, his own non-human friend.) Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) of underwater lifelike Tom Cruise’s Ray from War of the Worldshas essentially given up his fatherly role to pursue the life he envisioned as a carefree young man — though Steve has gone further, in which the child (called “possibly is my son”) grew up before Steve had any contact with him.

The characters of filmmakers are often very different. So are their technical approaches as directors: Spielberg advocates strong movement in his stories, while Anderson designs smaller gestures in frames that often look like The comics are incredibly detailed. Because of these very different forms of performance and their own preoccupation with fantasy pitfalls, both filmmakers are sometimes mistaken for childishness or false innocence.

However, while both look at fantasy images through the eyes of children, they also use the dynamic depiction of the child with the train that Spielberg describes in Fabelman’s house — no wonder the images of a train end asteroid cityor that Darjeeling Co., Ltd takes place largely within one – to go beyond simplicity Spielberg’s face fear. Instead, each imparts insight into how we process loss and how we relate it to our place in the larger world.

Spielberg’s sci-fi pitfalls often seem to exist to clear the chasm between family members, which can’t always be mended. Think back to Agatha precog in Minority Report, depicting her image of an alternative life for her lost son John Anderton (Cruise), her images are as painfully clear as genuine memories. Or thousands of years later, the tiny cyborg David (Haley Joel Osment) is still alive, as his show persists through the days of human decline that he must imitate.

The robot David, who looks like a small child (played by Haley Joel Osment) with tape in his hair, face, and eyes in Steven Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence

David (Haley Joel Osment) in Artificial Intelligence AI.
Image: Warner Bros.

Anderson, meanwhile, sometimes takes a more meta approach, in keeping with the self-consciousness of his characters. IN asteroid city, for example, the sci-fi story of an alien encounter is just one layer of worlds within the worlds Anderson created. The story — described as a play, framed as a television show — staged its scenes from afar, as a way of grappling with the infinite nature of the universe. Science fiction is a way of looking at the unknown, even if at some point we have to flinch.

This is the depth that imitators often miss with Anderson and Spielberg. (Another unexpected thing they have in common: They were both born many people imitate.) Spielberg imitations tend to come from films stuck in a 80’s nostalgic ideas about his films, but imitators often think about ET and some of the Amblin movies that Spielberg produced decades ago. imitating Anderson is most likely parody and impressed with his style. (Although some of the series were practically influenced by his style without really capturing his tone—look at you, Paddington!)

What the imitators lack, and what genuine articles share, however, is a sense that loss and grief will reframe our personal worlds, redefine them, and—follow ways that can be weird or even scary — open them up.

Despite Spielberg’s reputation for raising, his sci-fi interventions don’t always heal the family in any of the stories. War of the Worlds is the exception rather than the rule in this regard, and that movie involves the family experiencing a truly gruesome level of carnage (not to mention the actual murder committed by Ray) on the way to a happy ending. There is a similar (albeit on a much smaller scale) fire baptism effect with underwater lifewhere Steve has to survive more loss than before a Close the meeting-like the moment between man and another species.

A team of government agents in full-white Hazmat suits scour the asteroid crater where aliens landed in Wes Anderson's Asteroid City

asteroid city
Image: Focus feature

Steve’s heartbreaking reaction to Jaguar Shark — “I wonder if he misses me” — is more solipsistic than indicative of his concern for his makeshift family. But it does provide a window into the panic and emptiness he feels when he realizes that the people closest to him don’t last as long on this Earth as he does.

Anderson offers a more traditional solution in dog island, represents heroism and positive change for his near future. Atari’s quest has been accomplished and a new form of taming has been achieved. It’s a simpler summary than any of Spielberg’s major sci-fi projects, perhaps saving Ready to play one.

asteroid cityon the other hand, implying that the Steenbecks will have to try to get through their losses as best they can, just like the family in ET, minus the emotional peak scored by John Williams. It says that although the framing devices draw attention to the artificiality of the desert part asteroid cityof the story, the film still ends in that play. Far more than many filmmakers trying to spread Spielberg’s crowd-pleasing mantra, Anderson has the ability to create real magic with his sci-fi version. But as with Spielberg, his work resonates because it doesn’t ignore the gaps left in our lives, no matter how many miracles we experience.


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