Monday, September 19, 2005


I first saw Rushmore in a theater in Toledo, Ohio. I went to the movie alone, and I laughed so loud and so much that occasionally it felt like I was the only one in the theater.

Perhaps this sensation was reinforced by the feeling, throughout the film, that Wes Anderson had made this movie for me. That in fact, we spoke in a secret code (you know, the kind you invented in the secret club comprised of you and your ten-year-old friends hiding under the vast bushes at the far side of the block), and the whole movie could only be decoded by me because we had been in the same series of clubs.

Max Fisher, the ne'er do well protagonist of RUSHMORE, is an incorrigible adolescent who majors in extracurriculars at the private prep school called...Rushmore. His quest to save Latin is just the beginning of his obsession with Kindergarten teacher Miss Cross. When his friend Herbert Blume, local steel magnate falls in love with Ms. Cross, too, things go horribly wrong. The only way Max can heal the breach he's created is by staging one of his spectacular plays.

I am Max Fisher. I didn't have an obsession with a kindergarten teacher, but I definitely majored in extracurriculars. What's more -- the answer to any problem -- in my mind was: Stage a Show.

In every Wes Anderson film, what I love more than anything is the way that Anderson lovingly crafts his characters. His compassion for quirky, neurotic, annoying people is exactly the kind of grace that touches me most deeply. It seems like what the world really needs.

Don't squelch the odd impulses that make you unique -- his credo seems to tell us -- instead, embrace the intuitions and urges that drive us. These quirky dimensions of our selves can create meaning and beauty for everyone around us -- each story reveals -- if we can be reconciled to the community that nurtures and supports us.

The dramatic arc of the film follows one of the wierdest love triangles I've seen on the silver screen. Both Howard Blume (the wealthy industrialist with a disaffected wife, and twin sons who he could have never imagined having, all simmering in a wounded past from Vietnam - and played by Bill Murray) and Max -- love Ms. Cross the enigmatic kindergarten teacher at Rushmore. Ms. Cross is just as obsessed. For her, though, its a dead husband that she pines for.

I have to admit that its not the plot that I love as much as I love the world of the movie and the tone of the movie.

Rushmore Academy takes place in a world that seems recent and ancient at the same time. There are enough features of our world to alert us that its not a period piece. And yet, oddly enough, that's exactly what it feels like -- a period piece. The hairstyles and clothes and colors and buildings all seem of a piece with one another, but vaguely off kilter from our everyday world.

All of the transitional moments of the film open with a velvet curtain, leaving a lingering sensation that this whole production is Max's own vanity production -- a retelling of his own story much later in his life. All the good parts ramped up a bit. The bad parts played lightly, with melodramatic music and stylized acting. When Max and Howard Blume trade pranks and cruel schemes, we hear the music of The Who: "You are forgiven."

Who's forgiving anyone in this moment?

I think Max is forgiving himself and Blume and inviting us to forgive them too. The chorus is almost Grecian in this moment chanting the emotional response that we, the audience, are to employ, too. "You are forgiven."

And ultimately, the common grace afforded to all characters in this movie comes in the form of Max's shows. They have the power to heal old wounds, to bring together old enemies, to enchant new audiences and to turn sixth graders into Hamlets. In a storytelling universe, all it takes to bind us back together is a new story that we can believe in.