In my last blogpost on my two artistic heroes I discussed the similarities in the plots and characters of Wes Anderson’s movies and J.D. Salinger’s literary works. This time, I will show you how Anderson and Salinger employ the presence of pets and the importance of imagination in their – similar – works of art.
The protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield and Anthony, Bottle Rocket’s hero, want to have a good relationship with their little sister, and try to take care of them . Not all characters have such a relation with their younger siblings, or are the youngest themselves. In these cases, there is often an animal to pet and take care of which replaces the kid sister.
Bloomberg, the Glass housecat, keeps extremely close to Franny and has “suddenly become absolutely mad about [her]” (Salinger “Zooey” 84). She kisses him, pets him, talks to him and lets him sleep with her on the couch. The Life Aquatic’s Steve Zissou has his fish, his dogs and his cat Marmalade. Richie Tenenbaum owns a bird Mordecai and his brother Chas has his mice and his dog Buckley. Suzy brings her cat on the adventure on the island and even gives up a great deal of luggage space in order to take her cat’s favorite food. The Khaki scouts have a dog named Snoopy. The Whitman brothers adopt a snake, and so on and so on.
Animals represent the love and affection the characters are not getting elsewhere, and so desperately need. These animals do not have to be real, they can just as well be imaginary. The Bananafish Seymour has made up in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” or the Crayon Pony fish and the Jaguar Shark in The Life Aquatic are examples of these imaginary animals. The characters do not seem to doubt that it is possible that these animals exist. Seymour Glass has become friends with a little girl on the beach called Sybil and he suggests that they go and search for Bananafish together. He makes up several particular Banana fish traits:
Well, they swim into a hole where there’s a lot of bananas. They’re very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I’ve known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas. [...] Naturally, after that they’re so fat they can’t get out of the hole again. Can’t fit through the door (Salinger “Nine Stories” 16).
When Sybil asks what happens to the fish after they got stuck, Seymour tells her that, unfortunately, they died of banana fever. The imaginary Crayon Pony fish also has a link to childish imagination. Steve Zissou receives the Pony fish as a gift from Klaus’ little nephew. The audience does not know whether this fish is real in the world of The Life Aquatic, or Zissou is just playing along. Both Zissou and Seymour are troubled men, but they seem to be able to have patience with children and enter their world of imaginary animals.
Both in The Laughing Man, one of Salinger’s short stories, and in Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s latest film, children are depicted as members of the Boy Scouts. They are described as adventurous and very open towards storytelling.
In The Laughing Man it is the scoutmaster, whom the boys call Chief, who tells his group an adventurous and heroic story he has made up about The Laughing Man. In Moonrise Kingdom, Suzy takes on the role of storyteller by reading stories to Sam and his friends from the adventure books she has brought.
The presence of animals or kids dressed like animals is a visual theme we as viewers associate with childhood. Margot, dressed herself as a zebra, puts her siblings into animal costumes for her play, Suzy plays the raven in the Noye’s Flude, and almost every Andersonian hero owns a pet. Children are like animals, wild and free, but also innocent, loyal and pure. Richie lets his bird, Mordecai free because “birds should not be kept in cages” (The Royal Tenenbaums). Richie anthropomorphizes his bird when he returns to him with more white feathers and compares this to people’s hair becoming white after a traumatic event has happened to them. His loyal bird has, like his owner, gone through a rough time, but now they are reunited and ready for a fresh start.
This proves that both Salinger and Anderson pay a lot of attention to childhood and children’s ability to think outside the box. Animals are always there in their works of art for a reason: to emphasize childhood, the need to love and be loved and the wonderful, lively imagination of children.