The Rise of Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson first crossed my radar when I was taking an intro to film class in college, and I was studying color theory. Like many, I was instantly fascinated by his detailed set design, playful use of colors, and symmetrical camera shots. Since discovering his style and watching many of his films, I’ve noticed his name coming up in conversation more often. I suppose that’s always the case, though, when you learn something new. But in this case, I think it has more to do with how Anderson’s style has influenced the general public. His style is so distinct and influential that it has reached beyond the cinematic screen and affected social media, interior design, and even mainstream fashion. 

Before I can sum up exactly how Anderson’s style has affected these areas of pop culture, it’s important to first examine what key traits define Anderson’s cinematic style and distinguish him from others. In terms of visuals alone, Anderson’s style plays around with at least three elements of the film: color, camera shots, and of course, set and costume design. When we examine colors in the film, we often explore how they coincide with color theory. Film-makers often utilize color theory to help tell their stories by keeping in mind some principles. For example, the color blue is a cool color, so it can elicit feelings of being cold when interpreted literally or emotionally cold, distant, or sad (blue). Filmmakers may use colored sets, costumes, or even filters, to influence the tone of certain scenes or the film as a whole to manipulate the way the audience’s emotions align with the film’s tone. Most filmmakers try to align the colors with the tone of the given scene. Wes Anderson, however, takes this practice and turns it on its head. He still uses color theory in his films, but not in the way one would expect. Typically when films have more somber themes, they will be reflected through the color choices, perhaps using more neutral, faded, or darker color schemes. This is where Anderson’s style distinguishes itself; many of his films have heavier themes like war, love, and death, but rather than reflecting these moods in the colors of his set or costumes, he uses vibrant colors and soft pastels to play with the audiences’ emotions. He creates a sort of cognitive dissonance between the tone and the colors; these conflicting emotions add irony, humor, and suspense to his films. His use of contradictory color theory is one way in which his style is distinguished from others. 

Another distinguishing characteristic of his style has to do with his camera shots. Symmetry is the name of the game when it comes to lining up a shot in a Wes Anderson film. The shots in his movies always have a sense of visual balance and symmetry. While this has more to do with the way things fit into the shot, the set design is another factor that aids in creating this visual balance, with the way props are placed around the set. One of the most notorious characteristics of a Wes Anderson film is that every shot looks like it could be its own page in an I Spy book. Every setting is curated to have its own personality. 

Of course, a Wes Anderson film wouldn’t be complete without its odd cast of distinct characters. Every character in his films has a very distinctive personality, and one way that they are reflected is through their costume design. Though each character has their own style that is reflective of their personality, there is a commonality across most of their styles, and it is that they all have a sort of vintage look to them. Of course, that has to do with the fact that all of the films take place in the past at some point or another. In any case, it is this vintage style and sense of nostalgia that is yet another characteristic of Anderson’s style. 

Now that we better understand Anderson’s style, we can better assess how it has influenced other realms of media and pop culture. It became most obvious to me that Anderson’s style had a firm grip on society when a social media trend emerged where social media users tried to create short videos that mimicked his style. The trend mainly consisted of people dressing up in quirky vintage outfits and walking into the center of their camera shots to create visual symmetry and then interacting with some sort of prop they imagined might be used in one of his films, like a pair of binoculars or an old camera. Those who really embraced the trend went a step further and decked out the backdrop of their videos with vivid colors and interesting antiques and ‘props.’

This brings me to my next point. Anderson’s cinematic style has influenced fashion. With the widespread circulation of the whole “Wes Anderson Character” trend on social media, more people began seeing vintage pieces being worn. There was a particular emphasis on 60’s vintage looks. This is a trend that was particularly popular in 2020 and 2021, but vintage styles are still in, as we saw plenty of retro-inspired looks during this September’s fashion month. Wes Anderson has curated a style that is wildly popular, and his influence has extended beyond the big screen, having impacted everything from social media trends to people’s wardrobes and interior design decisions.

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