Movie Review: “Asteroid City” is Boldly Obscure
Christine Horner, copy editor
Wes Anderson has solidified his identity as a unique and noticeable filmmaker through his movies such as “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and, my personal favorite, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” His movies have a distinct style and a star-studded cast in each production. The camera angles, lighting and wardrobes he uses are all indicative of his affinity for the unusual. However, he recently pushed his viewer’s boundaries of how much obscurity we can handle in his recent film, “Asteroid City,” which is one of his most obscure yet.
I believe that most audiences enjoy predictability to a degree. We go to the movie theater with preconceptions of a film’s characters, plot and setting. Wes Anderson sought out to stretch the boundaries of this degree as wide as the desert’s horizon in “Asteroid City.” In this movie, he introduced a new level of meta: a television show within a play within a movie (I think) all within the constraints of one hour and 45 minutes. Although I appreciate a shorter film in the age of three-hour superhero movies, I found myself thoroughly confused while watching this film.
The movie begins with a black-and-white set. Bryan Cranston as “host” informs us viewers that “Asteroid City does not exist.” After his spiel, we are launched into a web of storylines including a grieving family, scientists young and old and an alien, as well as all of the fictional actors who
play them within the TV show within the play within the movie that is performed by real life actors. We are faced with multiple sets, some in color and some in black-and-white. Fortunately, this contrast helps the audience distinguish between storylines. However, this contrast doesn’t squash the overwhelming feeling of disorientation I felt while watching “Asteroid City.” However, some of the overarching themes of it are more clear to me now.
Ultimately, I believe that this film is about acceptance. Augie Steenbeck, portrayed by Jason Schwartzman, had to accept losing his wife by breaking the news of her death to his children and by moving on with famous actress Midge Campbell, played by Scarlett Johansson. The visitors of Asteroid City had to accept the fact that aliens exist, so everything they knew about space and the universe was shaken. The alien, portrayed by Willem Dafoe, needed to accept that he was not just an alien, but more of a metaphor. Adrien Brody’s character needed to accept that his relationship with his wife was over. The playwrights in the film had to recognize that they can’t control a story–a story will eventually go its own way. Finally, viewers have to accept that it’s okay to be confused and that not all media is intended for casual consumption.
Despite its complicated premise, I did enjoy watching “Asteroid City.” I recommend this film to those who are interested in a thought provoking cinematic experience and/or enjoy being bewildered. Though it wasn’t my favorite Wes Anderson film nor was it easy to follow, I feel that it is worth watching.