THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)

The frame occurs at 54:01. Chas has hauled Royal into the closet for a confrontation after Royal has returned from a day out with Ari and Uzi. Chas has just illuminated a light bulb above them. Chas stands on the left with Royal backed up virtually against the wall on the right. The diminutive Chas looks at his father from slightly below as he says “You stay away from my children, you understand?” Royal looks up and to the right, potentially distracted by seemingly hundreds of classic board games lining the shelves top to bottom / end to end of each wall of the closet. Chas’s gaze is focused, while Royal’s gaze, comparatively, is evasive at best – unwilling to look Chas in the eyes, and unreceptive to what he has to say. The spacing of the shot in a game closet works on a number of symbolic levels: Chas and Royal are literally in the midst of a bunch of children’s board games that have been neatly stored away in a closet, suggesting the loss/burial of childhood innocence that Chas, as a young stock broker, has suffered through their dynamic. On the other hand, the two are literally having a confrontation in the middle of a space full of board games, symbolically underlining the “games” that Royal is playing with his family (being homeless and broke, but pretending to have cancer as an excuse for his family to take him in and reconnect). Furthermore, notice the games themselves: along the back wall, the most visible appear to be two versions of Scrabble sitting atop a game of Operation, which rests at about chest level between Royal and Chas. Scrabble, being a word game, suggests the clever wordplay and semantics that the family and Royal in particular take part in, while Operation is a medical game foreshadowing the actual medical problems that will eventually befall Royal, even though he is not actually currently ill, with its placement near his chest suggesting the “work” he is doing on his families’ heartstrings. On the left hand wall, right behind Chas’s head, sits a game of Risk, foreshadowing the ultimate fallout that Royal’s “mind games” could/will have, while Clue sits near the bottom of Chas’ head, suggesting his need to see through Royal’s ruse. Likewise, the illumination of the light bulb by Chas as the scene begins suggests the “shedding of light” on Royal’s “games,” as it were, that will ultimately occur thanks to Henry Sherman’s investigation. As the shot goes on, Royal tries to evade the subject (“My God, I haven’t been in here in years”), driving Chas to yell, “HEY! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?,” to which Royal responds “YES! I AM!” From here, Royal’s evasiveness continues as he changes the subject to Chas’s wife’s death, prompting him to storm out and turn the light off, leaving Royal in the dark. The function of the light bulb appears to be that Royal’s evasiveness acts to deflect Chas from “shedding light” as it were on Royal’s deception, while Chas storming out and turning the light off at the end of the shot is a sign that Royal’s evasiveness has worked for the time being.

Meanwhile, the framing of this shot recalls two other similar shots. The first, occurring at 39:01, concerns Chas at the Cemetery standing up to his father in nearly the exact same framing, with himself on the left and Royal on the right, with Ari and Uzi in the background. Royal has just reminisced about a game they played when Chas was a kid, resulting in Royal having shot a B-B into Chas’ hand, and asks “Do you think you could start forgiving me?” to which Chas retorts, “Why should I?” In this frame, Royal and Chas are not quite eye level but seem to be at about the same height, whereas in the chosen frame (54:01), Chas seems considerably lower in the frame. It’s almost as if as Royal’s game playing goes on, Chas becomes more diminutive, regressing on some level to the child he once was, so susceptible to his father’s deception. Ari and Uzi’s placement in the background, however, again recalls the childhood innocence that is a thing of the past, as it were, between them. Similarly, a later frame (56:49) has Royal again in the game closet, this time drinking a martini and smoking, underlining his deception as nobody with stomach cancer could possibly do such a thing and manage to get by. In this frame, he is on the left, with Pagoda on the right but the camera is on one of the shelves, so the shot is reversed. Now it is as if the camera/audience is privy to his deceptive “games” – as Chas soon will be, symbolized by his Dalmatian mouse crawling in the next (reverse) shot over the shelf where the camera just was…

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One response to “THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)

  1. Note: A frame analysis written for Jonah Ross’ Wes Anderson course at Portland State Fall 2011.

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