As we speed toward the release of Wes Anderson's latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, on DVD on October 16, I have been thinking about his other films. I am a shameless fan of Anderson and his quirky films and have been ever since my older brother recommended that I watch his first feature, Bottle Rocket. I loved it and eagerly awaited his next release, Rushmore, which happened to hit the theaters when I was living with said brother in Boston. On a frosty February evening the two of us along with my sister-in-law ventured from our living quarters on Dudley Ave. in Cambridge to the Kendall Square theaters and caught a screening. It quickly became one of my favorites films, where it still remains easily in the top 15 or 20 (depending on the day, of course). The ending was/is the clincher for me and remains my absolute favorite ending to any film I've ever seen. There are a number of reasons for this, which I will illuminate, but the single biggest factor is The Faces song, "Ooh La La" accompanying the denouement of the picture. This song brings up so many memories for me that when it played, I was just overwhelmed with happiness and nostalgia. This is why I love the movies.
In comparison to Bottle Rocket, it was a polished film without the edges that Anderson's first feature had. With an increased dose of eccentricity, at least on the part of the main character, Max Fischer (so ably brought to life by Coppola family member Jason Schwartzman in his first film role), Rushmore sailed. The story of Rushmore follows Max as he attends Rushmore Academy, a private school for children of the local and international elite. Max's father is a barber and normally wouldn't be able attend; however, when he was young, Max wrote a one-act play about Watergate that netted him a scholarship to the topflight academic institution. Max takes his involvement at Rushmore very seriously, enlisting himself in a plethora of clubs and activities and largely ignoring his studies, eventually finding himself on sudden death academic probation and facing expulsion. In the meantime, he befriends local steel magnate and father to twin classmates, Herman Blume, played by Bill Murray in what I believe is his finest performance. Herman takes Max under his wing and as they both fall for widowed Rushmore teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), tensions and rivalries get the better of them...until the ending of the film.
And this is precisely why "Ooh La La" works so well in the context of the triangular relationship of Cross, Fischer and Blume. The lyrics of the song have meaning for each of the characters. Blume looks at Max as the son he wished he'd had instead of Ronnie and Donnie, the twin nightmares. In looking at Max and what lays ahead for him, Herman reflects on his own journey. The chorus to "Ooh La La" fits so perfectly here: "I wish that I knew what I know now/when I was younger/I wish that I knew what I know now/when I was stronger." Had Herman known before what he knows now, would he have married his ungrateful, cheating wife? Fathered his two bonehead sons? Would his life be as miserable? After the fledgling relationship with Miss Cross fails, largely due to interference by Max, and his wife sues for divorce (once again caused by Max), Blume finds himself having to start over again. Check the lyrics: "they come on strong and it ain't too long/for they make you feel a man/but love is blind and you soon will find/you're just a boy again." Just perfection.
These words, however, are equally as applicable to Max, who, even though he is a young man not even 18, can take something from them. The entire first verse could easily be words of warning in reflecting on Blume's experience: "I thought he was a bitter man/he spoke of women's ways/they'll trap you when they use you/before you even know/for love is blind and you're far to kind/don't ever let it show." But the big difference for Max is he can heed these words, weave them into his forward trajectory, something that could be too late for Blume or even Miss Cross.
When Miss Cross removes Max's glasses in this scene, she is reflecting back on her husband who passed away, Rushmore-alum Edward Appleby - the reason she is teaching at Rushmore. Earlier in the movie, she tells Max, "You remind me of him, you know?" And here it's come full circle. She looks at Max like we assume she looked at Edward Appleby, whom she knew her whole life. The chorus also applies to Miss Cross here - if she knew what she knows now when she was younger, would she be so sad? Would she cherish the moments she had with him more? This is a contemplative moment that's very powerful, because the basic notion contained within it transfers to us as viewers, causing us, perhaps, to do the same reflection each of these characters is doing. Without this song playing, I don't know if that would happen. That the song plays out over the credits, not just over the scene alone, allows us to consider it and the film in context as it plays out over the plain black and white words on-screen.
Growing up, my father played Ooh La La the album a lot. Many good memories are attached to listening to this song and playing with the album cover (yes, we listened to it on vinyl) - the mouth opened and the eyes went from side to side when you pushed the top of it. So when Ruben, the DJ at the cotillion, spins it and the first guitar chord hit I was already in love. As the camera pulls back to capture Max and Miss Cross enter the dance floor, Anderson employs his signature (well, until Moonrise Kingdom) move of having the final scene of each of his films in slow motion. The song coupled with this technique is why I think this is the best ending to a film of all-time. For the first time, we see all of the major players of the film - Max, Blume, Miss Cross, Max's father Bert (played by Seymour Cassel), Max's new girlfriend Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka), best friend Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble) and headmaster Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox) - in the same frame, happy. By using slow motion, Anderson allows us to linger in this moment with the characters, to leave behind the viciousness with which the characters set upon one another leading up to this point and creates one of the most cathartic film moments I've ever witnessed. Part of me wishes it lasted the entire song.
Here is a clip of the ending:
Enjoy it. Watch it several times. Let the song wash over you. And if you haven't watch Rushmore in its entirety, do so at your earliest convenience. It truly is fantastic.
He is Jeremy Harmon aka Spirit of the Thing aka Harmonov. Once a Van Damme/action movie devotee, he now prefers to delve into small budget, independent and foreign films. Jeremy maintains that Slap Shot is the best movie ever. Follow him on Twitter @harmonov or read his new blog @ http://spiritofthething.wordpress.com/