Wes Anderson’s Dahl Project: Four Films You Don’t Need Eyes For

Wes Anderson’s Dahl Project: Four Films You Don’t Need Eyes For

2023-09-30 15:20:40

Wes Anderson is always recognizable. You never know with Wes Anderson. On the one hand, there are the super-strict color concepts and the super-thought-out sets that turn each of his films into a puppet show. On the other hand, anything is possible in this colorful setting: a family story that breaks your heart (presumably there are gifted children) or Japanese-speaking dogs (which perhaps don’t really touch your heart that much).

Sometimes Anderson tells the story in episodes and sometimes in a more traditional act structure; sometimes there are only perpendicular camera pans; then again no actors, but stop motion, a technique that creates movement – this film thing itself – purely via illusion. Wes Anderson’s first Roald Dahl film adaptation, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, was a stop-motion film, and back in 2009, many people thought that Anderson was finally coming into his own with it: no movement, no actors, instead, the world builder stays entirely to himself.

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But puff cake. In his Roald Dahl film adaptations number two, three, four and five, the control freak Anderson gives up a lot of control: he completely refrained from interfering with the original. That’s right: Wes Anderson literally implemented four of Roald Dahl’s stories for Netflix, i.e. using every word exactly as Roald Dahl wrote it. Every “he said” that Dahl wrote down, Anderson left there too – although filmmakers don’t need such a “he said” because it’s actually just a crutch for lonely prose writers.

Iconic slippers

At the beginning of the first new Dahl film you even see this lonely prose writer. As Roald Dahl himself, Ralph Fiennes crouches in Dahl’s iconic armchair in the iconic Gipsy House, the iconic slippers on his giant feet and the iconic pencil in his large hand. “I see what you don’t see” is (even though the story is actually called “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” in the original English) a programmatic title: It describes pretty much everything that Wes Anderson does in this and the three other short films “The Swan”, “The Pied Piper” and “Poison” makes.

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Together, these four films – once 39 minutes long and three times 17 minutes long – just happen to add up to exactly feature length, and it makes perfect sense to see them in one go. It’s not for nothing that Anderson shot it with the same ensemble, which includes Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Rupert Friend and Richard Ayoade (female characters are very rare in these Dahl stories).

“I see something you don’t see”: Dev Patel as Dr. Chatterjee, Ben Kingsley as Imdad Khan and Richard Ayoade as Dr. Marshall (left to right)

Quelle: Courtesy of Netflix

The story of Henry Sugar, which has already been shown at the Venice Film Festival, is a little out of the ordinary, on the one hand because it is longer than the others and on the other hand because the fabulous Benedict Cumberbatch plays the fabulous Henry Sugar. Sugar’s fabulous story boils down to the fact that he learns to see without eyes – and ultimately cheats fabulously at blackjack.

However: the story is nested like a matryoshka doll; A more daring frame construction than in Dahl’s story could only be found in Theodor Storm’s infamous “Schimmelreiter”. First there is Dahl, who talks about Henry Sugar, then there is Henry Sugar, who comes across a strange volume in a strange library. Then there is the Indian doctor who wrote the thin book, fourthly the Indian circus performer whose story the Indian doctor writes down, and finally everything boils down to a yogi in the deepest jungle with whom the outrageous trick in the middle of the film begins takes.

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From him the circus artist learns how to see without eyes, which in turn the doctor from Calcutta notes, which Henry Sugar reads, from which Roald Dahl, as he claims, knits a true story in which ultimately three people – the yogi, the circus man and Henry Sugar – can see without eyes. “You forget, there are other ways to transmit images to the brain,” is what they say at one point during this complicated journey and that is a programmatic sentence that is best remembered for all four films. Because Wes Anderson’s Dahl project is nothing more than a homage to those films that don’t need pictures and that are usually called books.

“The mind is a distracted thing”

Wes Anderson has always had a special relationship with them. The sets of “Grand Budapest Hotel” are basically built around Stefan Zweig’s books, in “Moonrise Kingdom” books are stuffed into bags by the kilo, in “The Royal Tenenbaums” almost every family member has written a book, and Anderson is also in the narrator characters infatuated, who – a bit like the yogi we were talking about – hover over the events.

But in his Dahl project he takes this devotion to the extreme; In a sense, he traces the history of storytelling from film to books – just as Henry Sugar traces the gift of seeing without eyes. It’s not for nothing that this requires a concentration that hardly anyone has in Sugar’s presence. “The mind is a scattered thing,” it once says; Starving booksellers know this and know it better every day.

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Look, you see something: scene from “The Pied Piper”

Quelle: Courtesy of Netflix

Wes Anderson even shows how images suddenly emerge from nothing but words. In “The Pied Piper” he shows the story at work, whereby neither the profession of the Pied Piper (think of Hamelin) nor his casting (like Roald Dahl, he is played by Ralph Fiennes) is a coincidence. First the rat that this catcher is talking about is just a word, then it is pulled out of the jacket pocket in pantomime, until in the next step it is seen as a model and finally can move because of the sheer art of telling the story – not in front of the eyes of those around , but deep down in her brain.

So don’t confuse it with alienation when, in “The Swan”, a disturbing story about bullying and all human badness, Peter (Rupert Friend), who is tied to the train tracks, holds a card with a dot on it into the camera, because it is still there The train rushing towards him is no bigger. No, it really has nothing to do with alienation. Rather, it is the whole magic.

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