“I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people.” –Jack, The Darjeeling Limited
The distinct flavor of a Wes Anderson film is unmistakable, as any even remotely hipster college student can assuredly tell you. From the colors to the music to the plot, Anderson has a way of creating something absolutely singular in a world of largely repetitive blockbusters.
But amidst the ironically kitschy details and brilliantly funny dialogue, what is Anderson ever really talking about?
He loves to take the family dynamic, strain it, put it in a different country or under dire circumstances, and tell the story of what happens. As I’m writing this, it’s taking everything in me to not spout into line after line of the boys in the Darjeeling bickering, or Margot and Richie in the Royal Tenenbaums, or the awkward fumblings of Moonrise Kingdom‘s young lovers, and let them speak for themselves. Anderson truly has a gift for capturing the reality of family in all its totally annoying, surprisingly hilarious, completely ridiculous absurdity.
But what he’s really apprehending is a not so poetic reality long known by the Church: When your family annoys you, it leads you toward Heaven.
Anderson’s characters and their relationships between each other are always ultimately redemptive (even when the redemption is incomplete, or years late, or not glamorous) solely because they are family. Your family is the situation you were purposefully put into by the only All-Knowing Author, and it affects you, shapes you, and even can cause you to suffer far beyond what any other acquaintance or friend relationship can. No matter whom you consider to be your family, if they’re close enough to call family, they’re close enough to hurt you, build you, and love you more than any other people in your life. Family is permanent, regardless of death, distance, or disregard.
Family life is the constant state of the person, even regardless of to which vocation they are called. If you are called to start your own family with another person, you can rest assured they and your children will annoy you, madden you, love you, and increase your joy every day in the same way your parents and siblings did. (In fact, vowing yourself to one other person for the rest of your lives is essentially saying, “I want your particular ability to frustrate me as my daily opportunity for holiness.”) If you are called to a religious order, your brothers or sisters will undoubtedly do the same, maybe even to a greater extent than a nuclear family (more siblings, more opportunities!). And, despite it often being viewed as the loneliest vocation, with the priesthood there is absolutely no chance you’ll scoot through life without being totally annoyed, driven insane, frustrated, and ultimately redeemed by that one giant, universal family of the Church.
No, unfortunately there is no escaping the annoyances and trivialities of the family existence. But the wonderful news is that that’s absolutely okay. Like Anderson understands, the family is where our sanctification immediately lies. God wouldn’t have given Adam an Eve at all if they weren’t ultimately better off putting up with and being bettered by each other’s seemingly insurmountable differences. Our families, in all their incomprehensible behaviors, quirks, and flat-out-aggravating-as-all-get-out personalities, are the unfailing opportunities for our holiness and sanctification on earth.
They are the constant chance for us to love someone we might not really like at that moment. Or ever. Our families are our first and foundational instances of self-sacrificial love in the community of saints, and learning this skill opens us up to loving the rest of the world rightly.
When Francis, Peter, and Jack have to put up with each other, they locate themselves. When Margot and Richie and Chas have to deal with their parents and brother-of-sorts Eli, they are able to embrace their true selves. Only after Steve loses his friend and has to learn to relate to his estranged family does he grows.
When, in Genesis, God decided, “‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”, He created the first persons of a family unit, the first instance of true communion between persons. He necessitated for us the ability to relate to others, put up with others, and love Him through loving others, even if our attempts are imperfect in our fallen states.
And He also provided Wes Anderson with endless fodder for hours and hours of truly great cinema.
As a director, he’s sometimes criticized for making what is essentially the same movie again and again, just swapping out the soundtracks and placing it in a different setting (he even uses the same actors in varied compilations every time). But, isn’t this really the only story we all know? Family, in its many and differing forms, is the only avenue by which we each have direct opportunities for sacrificial love. Sanctification of ourselves by way of the family is humanity’s built-in avenue to holiness and Heaven.
Mrs. Fox: This story’s too predictable.
Mr. Fox: Predictable? Really? Then, how does it end?
Mrs. Fox: In the end, we all die. Unless you change.