Wes Anderson v Christopher Nolan

Published on December 3rd, 2013 by lzhang. Filed under Film & Movies, Uncategorized

For this paper I have chosen to compare and contrast the cinematic forms in the movies directed by Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan. Both directors are known for their stylistic idiosyncrasies that make their movies immediately recognizable to an audience, although the two make distinctively different films: Wes Anderson is renowned for his quirky comedy-dramas, whilst Christopher Nolan is arguably a master in the modern film-noir genre. I have selected the trailers of each filmmaker’s three highest grossing film at the domestic box office to date[1]. For Wes Anderson these were Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenebaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. For Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Inception. Some of these films also happen to be some of the directors’ most critically acclaimed works. The trailers will be compared and examined on its cinematography, set and costume design, and also special effects.


The cinematographic details in Anderson and Nolans’ films were observed. One of the first things that are immediately evident in Anderson’s film is his repetitive symmetrically framed shots taken using wide-angle lenses. This feature prevails in all three film trailers and is starkly noticeable; it serves as constant reminder of Anderson’s precise aesthetics. It also draws audiences’ attention to the characters in the scenes, and invites the audience to identify the contrast between the perfectly structured world and Anderson’s flawed characters. This is exemplified through the scene where Royal Tenenbaum has a conversation with his children for the first time in years in The Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson also ensures that the lighting and color temperature are consistent with a particular color palette throughout the whole film. In Moonrise Kingdom, mostly soft, natural lighting is used. This, coupled with the warm yellow filter that is used almost throughout the whole trailer, presents the film a hazy vintage quality. This stylistic choice is unsurprising given the movie is a relatively light-hearted comedy-drama. Christopher Nolan by contrast, achieves very different effects with cinematography. The symmetrical shots are no longer present; if anything, asymmetry may have been used to create a sense of chaos in certain scenes. Moreover, in The Dark Knight trailer, we see the cool-toned blue filter used, two prominent examples being the scene where the Joker enters the room full of mobsters and when Bruce Wayne is in solitude in his room. The blue tint emphasizes the solemnity of the scenes and cements the serious theme of the film. Hard lights are often used to create shadows, conjuring a sense of looming darkness, seen when the Joker walks down the streets of Gotham. It is interesting to note however, that both directors favor close-up shots with shallow depth of field. For example, in Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Nolan’s Inception, where there are close-up shots of the protagonist(s) in reflection. This is perhaps due to the directors’ emphasis on character development and interaction.


The two directors also differ in their approach towards production values, in particular set and costume design. Wes Anderson allows his signature quirkiness pervade through his set and costume design. All the sets and costumes brings his eccentric visual style together, subtly remind the audience that they are watching a film that does not closely resemble reality. As mentioned above, Anderson enjoys the use of symmetry in his films; this of course has implication for the set design. As we can see from Moonrise Kingdom, the mise-en-scène in Cousin Ben’s tent is meticulously arranged to maintain the balance of symmetry. In terms of costume design, Anderson has not only taken it as a tool to reinforce his artistic style, but also used it as a means of defining his character’s personalities. This is especially apparent in The Royal Tenebaums. The characters’ costumes are all consistent with the vibrant color palette of the film: Chaz’s family all dressed in red tracksuits, whilst Sherman has his royal blue suit. Moreover, the costumes all reflect an aspect of the characters, for example, Margot’s signature fur coat and Hermes bag allows her sophistication to shine through and Royal’s rugged suit reflects the messy state of his personal affairs. On the other hand, Christopher Nolan’s production values are visually different from that of Anderson’s, however Nolan is just as precise. Most sets in Inception were physically built as opposed to using CGI[2]. The sets often reflect on the character as well. As seen in the trailer, when Cobb is in Saito’s castle, both the interior has an unmistakably oriental ambiance. In the case of The Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises, its adaptation from a comic book implies that the characters need to somewhat resemble the original versions visually. However, Nolan also uses costumes to define his characters within this restriction. For example, Bane’s mask in The Dark Knight Rises sends a menacing and dangerous vibe.


Lastly, the ways in which special effects are used in the two directors’ films are examined. Wes Anderson’s most heavily used special effect is perhaps also his most subtle: Anderson is known for his use of slow motion sequences. In the trailer for The Royal Tenebaums, the reunion between Margot and Richie was filmed using this effect, and presents this scene with a moment of heightened emotional significance. Anderson also employs more obvious forms of special effects: The animals in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou were animated using special effects, as was the lightning strike in Moonrise Kingdom; both have a cartoon-like texture and can be considered by some to be kitsch, but effectively lends to the comedic atmosphere[3]. Nolan’s special effects are often used to achieve visual spectacles. This may be partly due to the fact that his budget can accommodate it, and the impressive visuals in his films helps to woo the audience at the box office. Nevertheless, Nolan is scrupulously thorough with the use of special effects; this attentiveness paid off, with Inception awarded the Academy Award for Best Visual effects. In Inception, some of the special effects are created to illuminate the surrealist quality of dreams, a key element of the film. For example, in the trailer there was a digitally animated scene where the streets of the city folded over[4]. In The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, films that could fall under the action genre, special effects were often used for explosion scenes that amplify tension. An iconic scene is when the football field in The Dark Knight Rises was blown up.


Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan lie almost on the opposite ends in terms of the spectrum of modern filmmaking. One makes comedy-drama with the quality of an independent film; the other makes blockbuster action-thrillers. Some of the differences in their cinematic forms can be attributed to the different sectors of the film industry in which they thrive in, however, it is interesting to note that there are some common themes between the two directors, such as their propensity towards close-up shots. Regardless of the similarities and differences in their styles, both Anderson and Nolan are fine directors in modern cinema.










Copyright © 2019 visualinquiry