Wes Anderson is a director with a distinct style: visual symmetry, off-beat characters, fast-paced-yet-monotone dialogue, and a quirky, child-like presentation that sometimes borders on surreal. His films are not without meaning, yet typically focus on his trademark aesthetic and lighthearted presentation over deeper meaning. That is not the case with Asteroid City, a film that may have as many interpretations as it has viewers.
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Release Date: 05/23/2023
Director: Wes Anderson
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, Google Play Movies, YouTube
Many theories have been put forward since the film’s release: Is it about coming to terms with death? Fear of artificial intelligence? The COVID pandemic? Our place in a vast and limitless universe?
If Asteroid City’s theme could be boiled down to a single word, that word would be uncertainty
Presented as a story-nested-within-a-story, the film begins as a live 1950s television production (hosted by Bryan Cranston) documenting the tale of fictional writer Conrad Earp (Edward Norton) as he first writes, and then brings to the stage, his story of a small desert town bordering an atomic testing site, named for its defining feature: a crater housing an ancient asteroid. It is to this town that recently-widowed Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) brings his four children after their automobile experiences an unexplained breakdown, possibly involving a robotic lifeform.
As the film moves along, we bounce back and forth from the television production—in black and white—to a full-color recreation of the play, often without any adherence to conventional narrative structure
The actors likewise maintain little consistency between their stage characters and their television counterparts, often breaking character mid-scene to remind us that what we’re watching is a recreation-within-a-recreation.
There’s also an alien, whose appearance sends the already disjointed cast of characters into a confusing frenzy of vignettes with little coherency and narrative connection.
Sound confusing? It absolutely is, and that disorientation seems to be the very point Wes Anderson is trying to make
Characters frequently ask—and are asked—why events are taking place, why they do the things they do, and what the point of it all is. Jeff Goldblum, who makes a brief appearance as the actor ‘playing’ the alien, delivers this line of dialogue shortly after Schwartzman walks out of a particularly nonsensical scene:
“I don’t play him as an alien, actually. I play him as a metaphor. That’s my interpretation.”
“Metaphor for what?” Schwartzman asks.
“I don’t know yet,” Goldblum responds, “we don’t pin it down.”
It is the fact that no answer is given, that the film deliberately provides little resolution and leaves viewers hanging on that question of why—what’s the point?—that is the key to unraveling this disjointed mystery of a film.
While definitely not for everyone, Wes Anderson’s latest flick provides a fun comedy for casual viewers, and an enticing enigma to be unraveled by those seeking deeper meaning in the art they consume.
About our Admit One Author
Isaac Frankel is a freelance writer and content creator specializing in reviews and analysis of cinema, interactive media, and mythological storytelling. He was raised in Prescott, AZ, wrote his first non-fiction book in 2013 after graduating from Tribeca Flashpoint College with a degree in Game & Interactive Media Design and currently produces content for the YouTube channel: Off Screen.
More of his work and current projects can be found at www.isaacafrankel.com