There are many things that I love about Rushmore (1998), the second film directed by Wes Anderson and the first that he co-wrote with frequent collaborator Owen Wilson. I adore its airtight structure, idiosyncratic sense of humor, and secret sense of warmth. But more than anything, I love how Anderson and his collaborators develop their characters through their use of small but specific details.
Rushmore is about Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a sophomore at the elite Rushmore Academy. He starts and runs a lot of extracurricular student organizations and puts on productions of plays that he wrote, but is a terrible student academically. He begins a friendship with wealthy older industrialist Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and develops a romantic interest in a teacher at Rushmore named Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams). Things take a turn for the worse for Fischer after he is expelled from Rushmore, but that decision might end up being the best thing to ever happen to him.
One of the ways that Anderson and Wilson use details throughout the film is to establish relationships between characters, including the one between Fischer and Blume. When he sees Blume for the first time, it’s at an event in Rushmore’s chapel where he is addressing the students. Blume encourages the students who aren’t from wealthy families to “take out” the more privileged students. We can tell that this line is important to him because an overhead shot reveals that he has underlined it in his speech. Impressed, Fischer starts to take notes in a nearby book of hymns (another specific detail that I’ve found funny since first seeing this film) on what Blume is saying. Much like Blume, Fischer has underlined the most important part of his notes, in this case a description of him: “Best chapel speaker I’ve ever heard.” This simplest of similarities between these two characters — that they both underline things — immediately links them and paves the way for their unlikely friendship.
That’s one of my favorite details in this film that further develops its characters. But it’s a testament to Rushmore’s richness that I could have picked many other moments to analyze in depth. I could go long on how its fastidious protagonist has stationery with a header that says “from the desk of Max Fischer” on it, or how Anderson emphasizes the youth of a character named Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble) by having him write an important letter in crayon. It is frequently the smallest things in this film which have the greatest impact, like when Fischer realizes that he has a connection with fellow public school student Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka) when he looks at a highly detailed flight plan she has drawn for her model airplane. All of these details add up to paint portraits of the film’s characters which are well developed and psychologically rich.
At one point in the film, Fischer argues with one of his actors for forgetting a line. He angrily tells the actor that “every line matters.” That credo, with its belief that everything is important, feels like the motto of this film. Every single moment feels like it received a lot of care and thought to make it have as great of an impact as possible. It is this level of attention to the smallest detail which makes these characters in particular and this film as a whole as entertaining to watch on a fifth viewing as they are on a first one.
Rushmore will be screened at IU Cinema on December 11 as part of the Study Break Mega Marathon.
Jesse Pasternack is a graduate of Indiana University. During his time at IU, Jesse was the co-president of the Indiana Student Cinema Guild. He also wrote about film, television, and pop culture for the Indiana Daily Student. Jesse has been a moderator at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival and is a friend of the Doug Loves Movies podcast. An aspiring professional writer-director, his own film work has appeared at Campus Movie Fest and the Anthology Film Archives in New York City.