From the machismo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone to Woody Allen’s nebbishes and the teenage fantasies of the Porky’s and American Pie franchises, manhood in all its flavors is a staple of the silver screen. Writer-director Wes Anderson is clearly fascinated by the subject too, yet over the course of his four films he has turned his lens on one specific aspect of masculinity: the balance between boyish and manly behavior necessary for the health of not only the individual male but also the culture he embodies.
A few reviewers have acknowledged this by mentioning, if only in passing, Anderson’s penchant for father-son or mentor-protégé relationships, and Anderson himself has confirmed it. In a 2001 Los Angeles Times interview, he credited director James L. Brooks—who helped him find the funding to turn a short film into his 1996 debut feature, Bottle Rocket—with inspiring his filmic exploration of mentors. Each of Anderson’s four features involves a relationship between a young man and either his father or a man who is old enough to be his father: wannabe thief Dignan and crime boss Mr. Henry in Bottle Rocket; 10th-grader Max Fischer and his industrialist friend/rival Mr. Blume in 1998’s Rushmore; favored child Richie Tenenbaum and his irresponsible father Royal in 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums; and airline pilot Ned Plimpton and the titular marine-life documentarian he suspects is his father in 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Those simplified labels, however, are inadequate to describe the mutual give-and-take of the pairs.