Herman Blume: What’s the secret, Max?
Max Fischer: The secret?
Herman Blume: Yeah, you seem to have it pretty figured out.
Max Fischer: The secret, I don’t know… I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then… do it for the rest of your life. For me, it’s going to Rushmore.
You guys have it real easy. I never had it like this where I grew up. But I send my kids here because the fact is you go to one of the best schools in the country: Rushmore. Now, for some of you it doesn’t matter. You were born rich and you’re going to stay rich. But here’s my advice to the rest of you: Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything but they can’t buy backbone. Don’t let them forget it. Thank you.
Rushmore was written by director Wes Anderson and his frequent collaborator, actor Owen Wilson.
The two met as roommates at the University of Texas, and two years prior to “Rushmore”, they made their debut into feature films together with 1996’s “Bottle Rocket”. The screenplay to Rushmore was actually written long before “Bottle Rocket”, however. It was based on Wilson and Anderson’s own prep school upbringings growing up. Like the lead character, Max Fischer, Owen Wilson was expelled from his prep school in the tenth grade. He also supposedly had a crush on a much older woman at that age. Wes Anderson was always putting on school plays. The speech above that Bill Murray delivers at the beginning of the movie was inspired by an actual speech once given by Robert Wilson, Owen Wilson’s father. The names of several of the places and characters were taken from people and places from each of their own school experiences.
The two have stated, however, that even though them story was so firmly rooted in their actual experiences, their intention was to create their own “slightly heightened reality, like a Roald Dahl children’s book”.
“Rushmore” is the story of Max Fischer.
Fischer is the son of a barber. Which may be part of his drive to succeed. In the second grade, Fischer wrote a one-act play about Watergate that earned him a scholarship to a prestigious private school. Rushmore. Unfortunately, during his tenure there, his misplaced ambitions caused him to focus entirely on extra-curricular activities, and not his core studies. Below is the listing of the activities he was involved in.
Yankee Review publisher, French Club President, model United Nations (Russia), Stamp & Coin Club Vice-President, Debate Team Captain, Lacrosse team Manager, Calligraphy Club President, Astronomy Society Founder, Fencing Team Captain, Track & Field (JV Decathlon), 2nd Chorale Choirmaster, Bombardment Society Founder, Kung Fu Club (Yellow Belt), Trap & Skeet Club Founder, Rushmore Beekeepers President, Yankees Racers Founder, Max Fischer Players Director, and Piper Cub Club (4.5 Hours Logged).
To play the part of the hyper achiever Fischer, approximately 1,800 teenagers were auditioned from the United States, Canada and England. They went through four rounds of casting over the course of an entire year. When Jason Schwartzman came to audition, he had no acting experience, but he was wearing a prep-school blazer with a Rushmore patch he made himself. Anderson was impressed. Scwartzman is also the son of Talia Shire and nephew of Francis Ford Coppola.
He was cast.
But having Fischer wasn’t enough. Max needed a foil. Bill Murray’s Herman Blume.
It may not be fully established here yet, but I revere Bill Murray.
Murray is not your average star. And I don’t simply mean he’s given us more great movies than most (though that’s true). Murray has no agent, no publicist, no business manager, no lawyer. He travels without an entourage. Supposedly he only fields offers for scripts and roles via a voice mailbox that he checks infrequently, and that he’s actually lost a number of famous roles that he would have been interested in because he didn’t respond to the offers in time. He’s legendarily “difficult” to work with. Dan Aykroyd nicknamed him “The Murricane” due to his mood swings. He’s notorious for reworking scripts and improvising dialogue.
When he first read the “Rushmore” script, however, he was so enamored of it, that he offered to do it for free. (That didn’t wind up happening, but Murray did make a financial contribution to the film. When Disney denied Anderson the funding for a scene – which carried a price tag of roughly $25,000 – Murray gave Anderson a blank check.) It’s fortunate that this wasn’t a role that “got away” from him, as not only does Murray create one of his most unique and memorable characters by going ultra dry, “Rushmore” also ushered in the second phase of his career – that of an actor in smaller, indie films (even though this wasn’t technically one).
“These are OR Scrubs” “Oh. Are they?”
Together, Max and Herman Blume form a unique friendship. Max admires Blume’s success, Blume admires Max’s positive attitude and drive.
But it’s not long before they’re at odds with each other. Over a woman.
She’s a Harvard educated grammar school teacher. She smokes. She’s a young widow. Even though she’s much older than Max, it doesn’t stop him from becoming obsessed with her.
To quote Murray’s Blume, “I gotta tell you, I don’t know what you see in her.” Of course, he said it while stalking her, in the midst of his own obsessing. But I think Olivia Williams’s Rosemary Cross, though lovely, certainly, isn’t a woman that would “launch a thousand ships”. I think that that’s the point. Anderson and Wilson are satirizing the fact that men DO “launch a thousand ships” over women. Its their own idiocy… and frequently unprovoked. Fiscer and Blume both fixate, then wind up at war with each other.
Much to the audience’s benefit.
The May/December romance may be “Rushmore”‘s main through line, but I find the May/December bromance/battle to be the most insightful. Max, the adolescent, craves achievement, recognition, maturity. He’s got the vigor of youth in spades, but he’s naive… His “worldliness” is an act. While Blume, the industrialist, is world weary. Tired. Though he has the achievement and accomplishment Max craves, he envies Max’s drive. It’s an ingenious contrast that illuminates adolescent anxieties and mid-life crises both. It speaks volumes to our world of misplaced priorities, the emptiness of ego-driven facades. It completely sends up the fact that boys want so badly to be men, yet men wish more than anything that they were still boys.
It also paints a hysterically chilling view of the optimism crushing experiences that occur between having the dreams of youth and earning the wisdom of actual experience. Max stands as an extreme example of youthful exuberance and grandiose visions of potential, while Blume practically drags his own coffin behind him.
Anderson creates a unique, offbeat world that’s all his own. Each of the characters within are loaded with quirks. Misfits. The occurrences within are, like a Max Fischer production, exaggerations and comedic mistimings.
He strengthens the off-kilter environs with his directorial style. He uses a completely unique pacing – a rhythm all his own. His shots will linger over something only mildly odd, and then quick-cut away from something completely hysterical (Max being pancaked on the wrestling mat, or being punched in the face backstage during “Serpico” as examples). He doesn’t use odd camera angles, but he often shoots directly down on top of things. He cribs off of an enormous list of films, there are nods in the film to “Apocalypse Now”, “Serpico”, “Barry Lyndon”, “The Godfather”, “On the Waterfront”, “Taps”, there’s a near endless list of Easter egg tributes that impress upon the audience subliminally. It strengthens the nature of the film… This is a world full of things you’ve seen, but without quite realizing why… things feel… different. Just a bit off.
The music that he chooses for the soundtrack is as odd as the film itself. But it gives the movie a flavor that’s undeniably all its own. Anderson filled the movie with British invasion era songs and artists, but then deliberately selected deep, more obscure tracks. If you were going to use a John Lennon song in your movie, would it be “Oh Yoko”? Cat Stevens. The Kinks. The Who. “A Summer Song” by Chad and Jeremy. But by the soundtrack ushers the film out with The Faces’ “Ooh La La”, it has the audience completely.
“Rushmore” is an unforgettable movie with indelible characters. It’s completely hysterical, brilliantly directed and wryly insightful into the ego-driven mind of men. Within is also the story of a young man’s journey to a more mature place in life, while still putting on insanely over-produced plays. It contains one of the finest performances of one of our generation’s greatest comedians (Murray was named best supporting actor by The Los Angeles Film Critics Association, The National Society of Film Critics and The New York Film Critics via their annual Circle Awards). It also announced to the movie world the presence of a great new comedic director, Wes Anderson.
“Best play ever, man.”
It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.