Gen Z Is Suddenly Very Obsessed with Wes Anderson—But Why?

wes anderson tiktok trend: collage of wes anderson, scarlett johansson, jason schwartzman, steve carell in asteroid city
Dasha Burobina/PureWow/Focus Features/Kristy Sparow/Stringer/Getty Images

Wes Anderson might hate the fact that I’m going to describe his body of work as social media bait. The director isn’t on social media, an irony considering his aesthetic panders to everything needed for a perfect feed: eye-catching color palettes, perfectly symmetrical shots, quick zooms and quirky moments. So even though Anderson is a Gen X director with a cult millennial following thanks to films like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, when we Gen Z-ers see a retro color palette and whimsical locales with a vintage-but-not-quite twist—staples in the Anderson repertoire—we can’t help but be obsessed. Afterall, Gen Z is hyper-visual. We crave pretty things, packaged well. No wonder #WesAnderson has accrued over 1.5 billion views on TikTok. But there’s more to it than simply being “Instagrammable.” (Yes, Gen Z has depth, people.) Let me explain.

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Cinema is escapism, no? Well then, a film by Wes Anderson is a different type of reprieve. One where every detail is thoughtful and immaculate, and in the end, you know everything turns out all right—with humor to spare. Why, yes, I’d love to throw on my “Sunday school shoes,” pack a suitcase full of my favorite books, grab a pair of binoculars and run away somewhere on the New England coast (à la Moonrise Kingdom). Jaunt across 1930s Europe, stay in the pastel pink Grand Budapest Hotel and steal a painting? Sign me up. For a Gen Z-er, these are all ideal options compared to the nowness of political war, oppression, climate change, a recession (looming or not, we can’t decide) and other sundry things.

It’s no wonder Gen Z loves to time hop and try on other generations’ nostalgia: Cottagecore. Daisy Jones & The Six. Bridgerton fashion. Y2K. We find ourselves falling for the trope of “the good old days,” when things seemed simpler. And honestly, with everything going on in the world, plunging into another one, where everything is quite literally picture perfect, is enticing.

And there’s more than the visual aesthetics. I often find myself cackling watching Anderson’s films. The dry, quippy one-liners make it impossible not to. Though, it’s all in stark contrast to the heavier themes his movies address: absent parents. Sibling estrangement. War, identity, genocide, coming of age, death of friends or family, (extra)marital relationships. Who in their right mind would laugh about any of those things? In any other circumstance, to do so would be insane. And that is the power of an Anderson film.

As children, we’re fed the idea that adults have it all figured out. That somehow, the day we turn 18 our questions about existence will cease, we’ll have an epiphany on our life’s purpose, and we’ll never need to give it another thought. How cruel an awakening to discover that, not only do adults not have it figured out, but they’re also the ones setting the dumpster fires.

This is the beauty of Anderson’s work. Bottling up that brokenness into something quirkily comedic. There’s always a quip somewhere about how the adults in his movies are incredibly incompetent. And it’s oddly comforting. A relief, really. The appeal is in the way it tears down the idea that being a grown-up means you know what you’re doing. That’s hogwash. Adulting is messy—but Anderson makes it romantic and romantically outrageous, allowing adults to bumble through surrealist worlds that just toe the line on make believe.

So yeah, you can be reuniting with your estranged siblings on a quest to find your mother, but you’re going to do it as you trek across the Indian subcontinent on a train called The Darjeeling Limited. You could be moving back into a dysfunctional childhood home with a father named Royal, but at least you’ll look fabulous doing it in a (fake?) fur coat and prosthetic wooden finger. It’s the way Steve Zissou says “revenge” with a straight face when asked his scientific reasoning for wanting to kill the jaguar shark that devoured his best friend. It’s the way Monsieur Gustave says “I apologize on behalf of the hotel,” after thoroughly (and arguably, racistly) insulting his refugee friend, Zero.  

Ultimately, I turn to Anderson’s repertoire for comfort, and maybe the rest of my generation does too. For better or worse, he reminds us that whatever life throws our way, we’re going to be alright. It’ll be messy, but if we allow, it will also be beautiful. Maybe that’s what it means to be an adult—knowing that life will be hard, painful and downright disastrous at times—with the true test being whether or not we are mature enough to choose wisely the lens through which we view it.

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I’ve covered the lifestyle space for the last three years after majoring in journalism (and minoring in French) at Boston University. Talk to me about all things sustainable &...