One of the topics I’ve continually hovered around since I began focusing on Wes Anderson’s work is what I refer to as the “slightly fake aspect” of The Life Aquatic. (A reference to Jane’s opinion of Steve’s new film that “aspects of it seem slightly fake.” To which Steve responds by pointing his Glock at her and saying, “Does this seem fake?”) My essay last week, WES ANDERSON, NOSTALGIA, AND THE 11 YEAR OLD POINT OF VIEW, touched on the issue and prompted House Next Door contributor Ryland Walker Knight to send me a paper he recently wrote entitled THE STAGED LIFE GENRE: IT’S ALL REALLY HAPPENING. You should download it.
Although I don’t agree with Knight that The Life Aquatic is in any way non-narrative, he does a brilliant job of making his points about the disruptive elements of Anderson’s mise-en-scene here— specifically everything that is “staged” (a word that takes on a useful multiplicity of meanings in Knight’s hands.) And, though I could go my whole life without reading another piece of film theory that sites Plato’s allegory of the Cave, Knight avoids the usual clap-trap about the seductive power of images and uses it—along with a reading of Stanley Cavell—as a thought-provoking theoretical base for his paper.
Knight puts the ideas he develops to brilliant use in the dissection of The Life Aquatic, but his mention of Inland Empire and Mulholland Dr. seems perfunctory and underdeveloped. Knight’s paper is less successful as an elucidation of a new genre than it is as a memoir of the changing attitudes of one person towards a piece of art over time. I think I have a lot more to say about this essay. Perhaps if I can get my head around the “slightly fake aspect” of The Life Aquatic I’ll return to Mr. Knight’s ideas.