The Perfect Symmetry of Wes Anderson’s Movies

Video essay­ist Kog­o­na­da pre­vi­ous­ly made some bril­liant obser­va­tions about the visu­al obses­sions of some of cinema’s great­est for­mal­ists. Stan­ley Kubrick, as Kog­o­na­da ele­gant­ly points out, com­pos­es most of his shots using one-point per­spec­tive. Once called out, it becomes a motif that’s real­ly hard to ignore. Yasu­jiro Ozu – a direc­tor who has more cin­e­mat­ic eccen­tric­i­ties than just about any oth­er major direc­tor – had a fas­ci­na­tion with win­dows, door­ways and cor­ri­dors.

For his lat­est essay, Kog­o­na­da takes on per­haps film’s most famous for­mal­ist work­ing today – Wes Ander­son. As you can see from the video above, Ander­son loves to com­pose his shots with per­fect sym­me­try. From his break­out hit Rush­more, to his stop-motion ani­mat­ed movie The Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox, to his most recent movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ander­son con­sis­tent­ly orga­nizes the ele­ments in his frame so that the most impor­tant thing is smack in the mid­dle.

Direc­tors are taught in film school to avoid sym­me­try as it feels stagey. An asym­met­ri­cal­ly framed shot has a nat­ur­al visu­al dynamism to it. It also makes for a more seam­less edit to the next shot, espe­cial­ly if that shot is anoth­er asym­met­ri­cal­ly framed shot. But if you’ve watched any­thing by Ander­son, you know that seem­ing stagey has nev­er been one of his con­cerns. Instead, Ander­son has devel­oped his own quirky, imme­di­ate­ly iden­ti­fi­able visu­al style.

When crit­ics com­plained about Ozu’s pro­cliv­i­ty for essen­tial­ly mak­ing the same movie over and over again, he famous­ly respond­ed by say­ing, “I only know how to make tofu. I can make fried tofu, boiled tofu, stuffed tofu. Cut­lets and oth­er fan­cy stuff, that’s for oth­er direc­tors.” Ander­son would prob­a­bly not con­sid­er him­self a tofu mak­er, but he would most like­ly appre­ci­ate Ozu’s sen­ti­ment.

Check out anoth­er Kog­o­na­da essay below about Anderson’s ten­den­cy for com­pos­ing shots from direct­ly over­head.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch 7 New Video Essays on Wes Anderson’s Films: Rush­more, The Roy­al Tenen­baums & More

Wes Anderson’s Favorite Films: Moon­struck, Rosemary’s Baby, and Luis Buñuel’s The Exter­mi­nat­ing Angel

Watch Wes Anderson’s Charm­ing New Short Film, Castel­lo Cav­al­can­ti, Star­ring Jason Schwartz­man

Wes Anderson’s First Short Film: The Black-and-White, Jazz-Scored Bot­tle Rock­et (1992)

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Comments (2)
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  • Paul says:

    Ander­son, whose writ­ing I often enjoy, has made me not want to watch any more of his movies with this non­sense. It dri­ves me out of mind in about three min­utes. So thanks for that, Wes.

  • Will says:

    Ummm. There’s very lit­tle actu­al per­fect sym­me­try in that video though. There’s the odd shot that has a sym­met­ri­cal object in the cen­tre of the frame, but almost all of the time this is framed by asym­me­try.

    The video is actu­al­ly miss­ing a line — demark­ing the top third of the frame. If it was there, you’d see what Ander­son is actu­al­ly doing is fol­low­ing the rule of thirds in the hor­i­zon­tal plane, while break­ing it in the ver­ti­cal plane.

    There’s also some nice gold­en ratio action thrown in as well.

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