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The Wes Anderson Collection, Chapter 2: "Rushmore"

The following is a video essay on "Rushmore," drawn from my book "The Wes Anderson Collection." 

In the spirit of the book, which is all about the creative process, I've appended my original voice-over narration script for my collaborator, editor Steven Santos. If you watch the video and read the script, you can see how the finished video differs from how I'd originally envisioned it. 


Max’s “Sic transit gloria” to Miss Cross needs to be in here somewhere, because it’s the punchline of the whole video. Where? That’s up to you.

Over the Touchstone Logo floating across the screen:

1. From the instant the Touchstone logo floats across the screen, backed by Mark Mothersbaugh’s plucked-violin score, Rushmore creates an aura of sly enchantment. There are few perfect movies. This is one of them. Photographed by Robert Yeoman in anamorphic widescreen (the first Wes Anderson  picture shot in that format), Rushmore is at once arch and earnest, knowing and innocent.


Split screen of Charlie Brown carrying the tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas and Max carrying the stubby little plant out of his house.

2. The nods to Bill Melendez’s Peanuts cartoons.

Yearbook images.

3. The captions in the yearbook montage.

Curtains, three or four in a row, fast.

4. The curtains that make it seem like you’re seeing a film directed by the movie’s hero, high school theater impresario Max Fischer.  

4A. Rushmore is jam-packed with this kind of artifice, and it foregrounds most of it. Yet the whole thing feels unique, and furiously alive.

Illustrate this next stretch however you want – maybe using images or pages from the book and hyperactive Ken Burnsing it?


6. Cowritten with Anderson’s former University of Austin classmate and frequent leading man Owen Wilson, Rushmore stars newcomer Jason Schwartzman as Max, a high schooler whose flaky brilliance, casual narcissism, and deep yearning are very Andersonian. His grades are the worst in school, but he’s the king of extracurricular activities and the boss of the drama crew, which mounts elaborately staged rehashes of Max’s -- and Wilson, and Anderson’s -- favorite movies.  

Over appropriate images from the film:

7. You really get a sense of Anderson’s style flowering here. Maturing. Becoming bolder, more defined. He was part of the way there with Bottle Rocket. But Rushmore is the movie where his style leaps out at you. The widescreen. The color-coordinated, rectilinear shots.

Over Aquarium groundbreaking tracking shot

8.  We even see the first of his elaborate tracking shots, in the aquarium groundbreaking sequence.  He would do a lot more of these later on. They grew more and more elaborate.  

CUT FROM MAX’s SERPICO TO THE FILM VERSION. Maybe cross-cut between them so they seem to be talking to each other? Is that possible? 

9. At one point, Anderson even shows us a bit of Max Fischer’s stage version of Sidney Lumet’s 1973 cop corruption drama, Serpico. What kind of a high school kid does that?

For this next part, SPLIT SCREEN FROM 2 films mentioned, OR JUXTAPOSE STILLS FROM BOOK OF 400 BLOWS and RUSHMORE – or a mix – whatever works.

10. The 400 Blows, the Francois Truffaut film that made Wes Anderson want to become a director, gets several shout-outs, notably in the classroom dream. Even if you know The 400 Blows pretty well, it takes a minute to catch the reference, because of how he flips the screen direction. He does this a lot when he’s referencing other films. It’s a subtle way of paying tribute to a favorite shot or sequence, but not so obviously that you get it right away.

11. Max is a parody of the super-competent, rebellious, jerk heroes who defined Hollywood in eighties and nineties. They were usually played by Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy or the young Bill Murray, the older and sadder version of whom appears, of course, in Rushmore. [Clips from any movies you have that star any of those guys]  

12. Max is kind of a miniature version of those guys. He’s just a kid. He doesn’t have any real power, except for the power of persuasion—and even that seems limited.

13. Nobody takes Max as seriously as Max takes himself. Every pipsqueak demand just confirms how little power he really has.

Put the “postgraduate year” exchange between Max and the headmaster here.

Then, this next part should be a MONTAGE with music from the soundtrack, maybe some Mark Mothersbaugh, with bits of dialogue or slapstick as punctuation, but mostly kind of a music video. MONTAGE STARTS HERE….

14. Max’s mother died when he was young. He writes all his plays on a typewriter that she gave him. It seems hilariously right when the movie reveals that Max’s home is located next door to the cemetery where his mother is buried. His whole life is a state of extended mourning.

15. He distracts himself from it by playing father AND mother to his airless little world. His fake-mature posturing and mania for control make horribly perfect sense. Of course he’d birth plays…. clubs .. even an aquarium …  and order the Max Fischer Players around like unruly offspring who live to serve a visionary dad.

16. And of course he would court a young teacher, Rosemary Cross, who lost her fiancé husband, the ocean explorer Edward Appleby. [CLOSEUP OF LIBRARY BOOK INSCRIPTION]

MONTAGE CONTINUES but give us a couple of good lines between Max and Rosemary, maybe their first conversation? Or maybe you could make a mini-montage within this montage, of Max and Rosemary bantering, three sets of very brief exchanges.

17. Deleted

18. In a way, Max stands in for the dynamic young love that Rosemary lost. The book that Rosemary donated to [CE1] the library leads Max straight to her. It’s as if Edward Appleby’s ghost were playing matchmaker. At the same time, Max is the gifted son that Rosemary and Edward Appleby  never got to have together.


19. Max and Rosemary’s thwarted not-quite-love-story becomes a triangle when Max persuades the steel magnate Herman Blume to fund an aquarium to impress Rosemary. Herman, whose wife is cuckolding him with a younger man, falls for the teacher.

[Give us a line or brief moment that shows us that Herman’s in love with her.]

THEN, over a section of the “Quick One While He’s Away” montage:

20. His affair drives Max into a feud with Herman that destroys the tycoon’s already wobbly marriage, and lands Max in jail.

21. The casting of Bill Murray resonates backward through film history because, as I talked about earlier, Max is a geeky teen version of a certain kind of 80s and 90s hero. Rushmore’s masterstroke is how it takes the piss out of those characters. It implies that the bravado that those 80s and 90s characters had was probably a cover for  fear and depression – and that behind the cocky grins, guys like that are insecure, and tend to end up like Herman when they get older.

In this next sequence, start out with the birthday/pool sequence, then introduce a split screen from The Graduate, and time them so that the splashes hit at exactly the same time.

22. One of the most uncomfortable sequences finds Herman sitting alone at his sons’ birthday party, drunk and sad, and acting out. It’s a great example of two qualities that distinguish Wes Anderson from a lot of other major American filmmakers. One is his ability to pay tribute to a classic, earlier film, without being too obvious about it: in this case, we’re talking about The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman, who looked a little bit like Rushmore’s lead actor Jason Schwartman when he was younger. The other is Wes’s empathy. This scene might be the flipside of that haunting Simon and Garfunkel montage in The Graduate. It’s that sequence re-imagined from the point of view of Mrs. Robinson’s cheated-on husband.

[SPLASH! When Hoffman goes in the water, split-screen disappears and we’re only looking at Bill Murray underwater.]

23. “A Quick One While He’s Away”, huh?

Illustrate these next bits however you like:

24. Deleted

25. We knew Max had potential for growth from the second he tried to impress Rosemary by saving Rushmore’s Latin program. Latin is a dead language; by bringing back Latin, Max is resurrecting the dead. Over time, Max discovers his own goodness without quite realizing that he’s doing it. He matures by learning to listen to his heart, instead of his ego.

26. His generous impulses flower in the second half. Battered and humiliated, he mellows without softening, correcting and apologizing for his lies and using his art to reach out and heal rather than continuing to glorify his own cleverness.

MONTAGE of Max and friends planning the play and Max assembling his cast. Maybe over “Oh Yoko” or something.

27. Staging the most ambitious play in his new school’s history, a Vietnam epic, Max reaches out [CE2] to a shy classmate, and age-appropriate love interest, Margaret Yang. He recruits his old Rushmore tormentor, Magns, to play a plum supporting role.

Magnus saying, “I always wanted to be in one of your fuckin’ plays.”

28. And then, he confirms his maturity, and his generosity, by dedicating the production to two people: the woman who meant everything to him, and a man he never met.

Max dedicating the play.  

Then, over the final shot:

29. Rushmore’s postplay final shot—a dreamy, slow-motion tribute to the pre-pageant dance in A Charlie Brown Christmas—finds all of the film’s significant characters paired off in unexpected configurations, dancing to the Faces’ “Ooh La La.” It’s an embracing, humble, joyous end to a tale whose hero started out an alienated, selfish, angry person. It is as if Max had remembered his opening come-on to Rosemary Cross and thought about what it actually meant: “Sic transit gloria. Glory fades.”


 [CE2]Rep OK?

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of, TV critic for New York Magazine and, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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