Wes Anderson and the Traits of Serial Killers

wes-anderson-serial-killerWes Anderson’s films and protagonist are mostly harmless, but when you dig into them they share many characteristics with serial killers.

Now, I am mostly having fun with that premise, and I love all of Anderson’s films, but when you look around his work you see a lot of the so called “characteristics” of a serial killer. To show how serious I am taking this I referenced this Dr. Phil article, “Fourteen Characteristics of a Serial Killer”, and it was surprising how many boxes Anderson’s characters and themes ticked when running down that list.

– Over 90 Percent of Serial Killers are Male –
Anderson has a number of strong female characters in his films (Ethel & Margot Tenenbaum, Suzy, Mrs. Fox, Jane Winslett-Richardson, Eleanor Zissou, Rosemary Cross), but the majority of his films are populated by male characters. That isn’t just an Anderson problem, it is a Hollywood problem, and the majority of major action films are full of characters actually killing people; and we often cheer them on. Anderson’s protagonist aren’t killers, but many of them seem like they could’ve been if things just went slightly different for them.

I could totally buy Max Fischer as a serial killer if his father had molested him instead of just unjustly embarrassing him for being a barber. Can’t you see him screaming, “I saved Latin!” as he butchers his victims one by one? No?

– They Tend to be Intelligent, with IQ’s in the “Bright Normal” Range –
Anderson’s films are populated with geniuses and some of the brightest of them fit that “if things just went slightly different for them” bill.

You could argue Max Fischer literally attempted murder when he cut Herman’s brakes over the simple scorn of young love. Chas Tenenbaum feels like if he swung in the polar opposite direction of his safety desires, he would be meticulously murdering and hiding the bodies all across Anderson’s fictional New York burrough. Eli Cash might have lived next door to a family of geniuses, but his sociopathic nature put him in harm’s way and led him to kill a dog (more on animals later). Moonrise Kingdom’s Sam and Suzy are ready to take out anyone that gets in their way. Steve Zissou’s recklessness puts everyone at risk and kills his wannabe son. Ditto for Mr. Fox, minus the dead son. Bottle Rocket’s Dignan doesn’t fit the genius bill, but he swings a screwdriver at his best friend’s head.

Anderson loves looking at the darker side of genius and how easily it could lead into trouble when you view yourself as better than everyone around you. He wouldn’t have to dig that much deeper into that theme to find a protagonist that actually hurts someone physically beyond the emotional damage many of his heroes inflict.

– They Tend to Come from Markedly Unstable Families –
This trait has Anderson written all over it. Dignan is looking for any kind of familial relationship beyond his front of selfishness. Max fakes his family issues to try and give himself some sort of edge over his peers. The Tenenbaums are a mess of family, ruined by their parents faux-divorce. The brothers of The Darjeeling Limited have mother issues that are too long to list and can barely survive a few days in the same room together. Sam is orphaned and grew up in multiple, and volatile, group homes. The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Zero has lost his family and is run out of his war torn home country. Life Aquatic and Fantastic Mr. Fox have plenty of family issues to throw around as well.

Unstable families are a dedicated theme for Anderson, but here it feels the least creepy as family drama can often be a rich storytelling narrative. We don’t see a lot of violence coming out of the family strife in his films, but many of his characters backstories could easily serve as interesting starts to an origin story of a homicidal maniac.

– As Children, They are Abandoned by Their Fathers and Raised by Domineering Mothers –
Paternal abandonment is another recurring theme of Anderson’s, and while it is rarely malicious or intentional, there are examples in almost all of his films. Patricia is a serial abandoner of her three sons and clearly dominated every decision in their lives. Dignan gets two-timed by his father figure Mr. Henry. Max Fischer’s mom dies. Royal Tenenbaum abandons his kids. Ned Plimpton was raised without a father. Kristofferson’s dad gets double pneumonia. The aforementioned orphaning of Zero and Sam, and Suzy’s parent’s have no idea what to do with her.

Anderson constantly grapples with bad Moms and Dads in his films and I have always wondered where that comes from. He has a great relationship with his brother, Eric Chase Anderson works on all of his films, and I’ve never read anything about a rough childhood. Again, like “Unstable Families”, it is a really interesting subject to dive into when you write about family as much as Anderson does, but the repeated nature in which he goes back to this theme is surprising. He’s going to run out of reactions to abandonment in his films sooner or later and is going to have to dive into serial murder at this rate.

– They Hate Their Fathers and Mothers –
Serial killers have serious paternal issues don’t they? This one sticks less than the rest, but they’re still are plenty of ancillary examples in Anderson’s work. Max Fischer hates the idea of his father. Chas legitimately despises Royal. 2/3 of the Darjeeling boys don’t want anything to do with their mother. Ash is just going through teen angst, but he is probably going through the most difficult part of his relationship with his parents that he will ever have. .

Hate is something Anderson doesn’t usually dwell on, so maybe we can let him off the hook on this one. He often turns his characters’ hate and rage into humor rather successfully and any malicious behaviour in his film is often validated by the receiver’s actions. They are also almost always played by Willem Dafoe.

– They Have High Rates of Suicide Attempts, Spend Time in Institutions –
This trait is hit on at a minimum in Anderson’s work, but depression, suicide and institutionalization has popped up in a few of his films. Anthony never attempts to kill himself, but he had to put himself in a voluntary hospital before the events of Bottle Rocket. He says he “went nuts”, but we never really know how dark things got for him. Herman Blume teeters on the edge of depression and sorrow in the early goings of Rushmore and scrapes bottom before it is all done. Richie Tenenbaum does take his depression to the near ultimate conclusion after Margot’s past is revealed and only a countless number of stitches could save him. Francis also tries to kill himself by intentionally crashing his motorcycle, but, like Richie, it stems more from a emotional over reaction to a traumatic event in his life. The threat of an orphanage for Sam hangs over all of Moonrise Kingdom and is seen as a terrible place in one simple shot. M. Gustave ends up wrongfully in prison over the course of Grand Budapest Hotel.

Anderson is very sympathetic to his most damaged characters and for the two that attempted to kill themselves it almost serves as a cathartic experience that they can come out stronger on the other side. Suicide has never been more optimistic than in a Wes Anderson film. Richie looks better immediately (though, that could have just been the shave and haircut) after he, shockingly, attempts suicide, and the film barely waits a min before revealing he is OK. Francis’ attempt happens before the events of Darjeeling, but, injuries aside, it has rejuvenated his outlook on life and his desire to bring his family back together.

Institutionalization even yields positivity in his films, as Anthony is one of his most well adjusted leads after his stint. And Sam finally finds a family he fits in with in the face of being thrown into an orphanage. M. Gustave is even able to turn his stint in the slammer into a positive experience.

Anderson could have used suicide/institutionalization to put a significant damper on his films but instead finds as much light as possible on the other side. Maybe we can’t hold this one against him either.

– Fascinated with Fire Starting and Involved with Tormenting Small Creatures –
Anderson has killed, tortured or abandoned an animal in every one of his films since The Royal Tenebaums. Buckley gets run over. Cody gets smacked and left behind. Steve Zissou’s tabby gets bit and killed by a snake. Peter’s snake is implied to have been killed by The Chief Steward on the Dajeeling Limited until the film’s final scenes. Rat gets electrocuted. Snoopy gets murdered by a stray arrow. Deputy Kovacs’ cat gets thrown out a window. What the hell is going on with Anderson and animals?
Often times the animal abuse is, sometimes successfully, played for laughs, but I still don’t know any other mainstream director with such a solid track record of animal abuse in their films. It is a very odd trait to be so prevalent in Anderson’s work.

On top of all of this both Max Fischer and Sam could be profiled as firestarters in their spare time.

Wes Anderson being able to continually tick off the characteristics of a serial killer in his themes, with multiple examples for each, is a hilarious coincidence. By no means am I implying that Wes Anderson is a serial killer, but with so many of their supposed traits popping up in his films is incredibly bizarre.

Is Anderson conscious of these connections or is everyone just a shade or two from being a serial killer based on these far too general characteristics? Either way, I think it would be fascinating if he made a film that directly addressed these themes in his trademark universe and style. If he shyed away from showing the violence, the everyday portrait of a serial killer would probably, eerily, fit right into the Anderson mold. Though, based on his track record, Anderson would probably still show the animal abuse.

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