MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #6 – MAX FISCHER
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Produced by: Barry Mendel, Paul Schiff
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Bill Murray, Brian Cox, Seymour Cassel, Mason Gamble, etc.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
Having recently written positively about my favourite films of Wes Anderson I was spurred to revisit my favourite work of his, Rushmore (1998). It’s a smart, funny and poignant rites-of-passage narrative which spins off from the classic Hollywood teen films of John Hughes to deliver an esoterically beautiful set of empathetic characters. Like Hughes’ best work it is witty, warm and highly memorable.
At the heart of the story is Max Fischer (Jason Swartzman), a fifteen-year-old boy who attends Rushmore Academy. Like Ferris Bueller, he’s a maverick who drives his tutors up the wall with his rebellious behaviour. But Max is not all about looking cool, driving fast cars and singing to a crowded Chicago parade. He is far from the slacker that Ferris is, in fact he has started virtually all of the Rushmore clubs including: karate, fencing, French, and the ‘Max Fischer Players’. Their version of the film Serpico (1973), is absolutely hilarious. However, all such activities have impacted his grades causing Max to be placed on probation by the exasperated Principal, Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox).
Max is arrogant, confident, determined and forthright in his belief he is better than everyone, including the adults around him. But it’s a long-developed defence mechanism against one of the integral themes of Anderson’s film, grief. All the main characters including Max, Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) are grieving the loss of a loved one. Amidst the quirky comedy Anderson therefore gives the film an air of mournful pathos, bringing us ever closer to the characters. With the theme of loss in play the Oedipal love triangle which plays out in the middle act is all the more humorous and sadder.
Max is a flawed character, but so driven that one cannot help but find him appealing. He hides his socio-economic situation, perhaps not ashamed of his working class background, but more a projection of where he wants to be. His Dad (Seymour Cassel) is a barber, not the surgeon Max tells everyone he is. Yet, there is love and respect between the two as they have clearly suffered loss together. As with Williams and Murray, Cassel gives a wonderful supporting performance.
Over the course of Rushmore (1998), amidst Max’s unrequited love for Rosemary, vengeful attacks on Herman, crazy schemes, school expulsion and hilarious plays, Max matures slowly, makes friends and finds his place in the world. Max also forges relationships with teenagers his own age and slowly releases his shield of grief. Jason Schwartzman is perfect as Max, delivering a winning combination of pathos, intellectualism and deft humour. Incredible to think it was his film debut beating, according to IMDB, 1800 auditionees to the role.