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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

I watched this movie for the first time in my first apartment. My extremely cool roommate had an excellent DVD collection of French films I'd never heard of, Danny Kaye movies (swoon), and The Royal Tenenbaums. One day when I was sick, I availed myself of this DVD and my life changed.

It didn't take much. Once it got to the character introduction credits, those beautiful full on face shots that feel so mundane but also completely removed from reality. Are we the mirror? Are we the fourth wall? Why, after being introduced to a family of extraordinary individuals, are we just watching them go about their days? Mostly the grooming parts? It's so inviting in an alienating way. The strangeness of Wes Anderson's direction is honestly the thing that makes it feel so relatable, to me. Like a Western Hayao Miyazaki. No one cries like that, or turns to or away from someone, but that's how it feels. Big and Important and Beautiful. A celebration of the feelings we hide from ourselves and each other shown in a way that feels worthy of art. The way Henry walks up the stairs to investigate Royal. The way Chas storms up the stairs and keeps his back to the camera for so long. Margot getting off the bus. The dreamlike quality feels like feeling.

And now, after two decades of betrayal, failure and disaster (god, Wes, just @ me why don't you), this movie hits differently. As a former gifted child with a messed up father, I get it. As a former gifted child with a messed up father who has spent a lot of time in therapy, I embrace it. There was a period of time when I, like Chas, blamed Royal for everything. But now, gosh, I recognize that this is a group of profoundly lonely people who have spent their lives desperately trying to fill the void with achievements and eventually blame. But the loneliness persists. With a larger than life, philandering father, it feels like the children have to perform perform perform in order to be worthy of his name and his love. And then OF COURSE they are disappointed to find that he is merely human/deeply fallible and that no amount of gold stars can save them from their emptiness. No amount of "potential" actually points the way through life.

Earlier in the day before watching this, my mom-in-law and I were talking about the crippling anxiety felt by overachievers in high school as they enter the wider world (specifically the costume shop I teach in). She said, "maybe the middle of the road kids are better off in the end." And honestly? Yeah. I think about the high wire act of my adolescence and how scared I was to fall. So how could I not? I feel so haunted by my early achievements in life. If I could do all that at 16, why can't I even excel at my job at 38? Why am I not praised like that anymore? Is it that I suck or that it was never healthy to be held up as a prodigy like that? Not that it was a conscious choice, but it still did damage. And maybe that's the real takeaway for this movie tonight. No one meant to fuck up the children, but boy oh boy are they fucked up. (Laterthought: an audio book about emotional neglect came in at the library for me this week and !!! it was timely and mindblowing.)

Ben mentioned during this viewing that he feels the worst for Richie. "He's the saddest, I think." Usually I relate to Margot - self-destructive and secretive to simultaneously try and burn it all down and keep it safe - but this time, Chas really spoke to me. One, Buckley the dog is flipping adorable. But mostly, I ached for Chas and his anger. Anger he's never fully allowed himself to feel, always finding very justifiable reasons for behaving the way he does. But at the heart of everything is anger. Which is okay! If you release the pressure every now and then. I'm so relieved for him when he admits at the end that he needs help.

Using this gif as a pallette cleanser because it is a line Ben and I regularly quote.

God this soundtrack rocks. What a perfect curation of delicately melancholy songs. "She Smiles Sweetly". "These Days." "Needle in the Hay." All indelibly etched in my brain along with the images they accompany. It doesn't matter how I first heard the songs on this album, I can only associate them with this movie. When I walk out of that burial plot some day, in my head, I will only hear Van Morisson.

God Bless Owen Wilson. What a perfect weirdo. "I KNOW YOU, ASSHOLE" is my favorite line in the movie but it is 100% outshone by that bizarre wave Owen Wilson does in response. Incredible. "Wildcattin'."

Thread, fabric.


-This took awhile! I'm glad I took the time to do it right but I'm also glad it's done!

-I really love stumpwork. Every time I do one of these, I'm over the moon in love with it but if I think about doing it again within a month or two, I'm exhausted at the prospect of doing it again. I don't fully know how many hours I put into this one but it's probably about 25.

-No one makes me feel okay about being a lost adult like Paul Simon. These lyrics cheerfully haunt me on a normal day but in the wake of revisiting this film, yowza. The rhythm of my heart for the last week. And these lines encapsulate how Royal Tenenbaums makes me feel. I'm so seen by this movie. My whole adult life, I've been on my way but I don't know where I'm going. Honestly, working on this piece, I felt like I maybe did, though. Gotta dig into that feeling.

-This was actually just one Tenenbaum pet/soundtrack lyrics idea of several I had. This was the first/strongest, but I look forward to doing the others someday. You know, when I have free time! *rimshot*

Next week, my 100th Movie for Making & Movies. The Random Number Generator was exceptionally kind and provided me with long lost love, Kill Bill Vol. 1. Because I'm a little behind in posting this blog, I can spoil it for you: Kill Bill still blows me away.

I hope this week offers healing. I hope you can admit when you're wrong and take the time you need for yourself. Check in with that wounded bird that is your inner child. Listen to some Rolling Stones together.

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