RUSHMORE (1998)

The frame occurs at 01:43. In a medium wide shot, Max Fischer stands dead center, in front of the chalkboard at the front of the classroom, facing the left side of the frame. His right hand is outstretched to catch a flying piece of chalk being tossed to him, with his left hand holding the tea cup he was just drinking from. Two students sit on either side of the frame, eye lines trained directly on Max, the right side student with the eraser end of his pencil visibly sticking out from behind where his mouth would be, indicating he’s chewing on it (a sign of nervousness). On the left side of the chalkboard is the problem the teacher was illustrating for the class, with a partial homework assignment framed on the right and what looks like part of a calendar below it, and a big blank space in the middle behind Max.

The chosen frame occurs in the first scene after the math teacher has challenged Max to solve what he’s dubbed “probably the hardest geometry equation in the world,” which he put up as a “joke” extra credit problem because not even his former professor at MIT could solve it. Max’s posture, with right hand outstretched to catch the flying chalk, and left hand casually gripping his tea cup, from which he drank in one of the previous shots after being challenged to solve the equation – interrupting his reading of the financial section of the newspaper – suggests his casual/lackadaisical approach to school work. His placement in front of the almost blank chalkboard catty-corner from the (off-screen) chalkboard on which the extra credit problem is actually written, as well as the relative wide angle framing suggests both his seeming ability to see outside of the box, as it were, as well as his inability to focus on the issue at hand when it comes to school work. However, as the scene continues, Max correctly solves the problem and his classmates, automatically absolved of their need to “open a math book for the rest of (their) lives” thanks to his exploits, chant his name and hoist him up on their shoulders, a big goofy grin on his face. Before long, it becomes evident that this is Max’s fantasy – that his lack of passion for school work but desire for everything else that school offers him will nevertheless yield success with little to no effort.

The chosen frame is thematically/contextually if not so cinematographically mirrored later in the film at 1:27:53. After the premiere of Max’s Vietnam play at Grover Cleveland High School, there is a “Heaven & Hell Cotillion” in the gymnasium. In a medium two-shot, Rosemary Cross, the object of Max’s affections, has just asked him to dance. Max gets the attention of Ruben, the DJ by holding up his right hand with index finger pointing down and proceeds to drop his finger in a kind of half-“Redrum, Redrum” motion to indicate a music change. Whereas the chosen frame suggested Max’s lackadaisical/casual approach to school work, this example of Max using a precise/focused gesture in concert with the reason for it suggests his seemingly natural born ability to do what he’s passionate about – bring together a large group of people and control things as in his club creations, his manipulation of Herman Blume’s financial uses, his stage performances and, finally, the slow motion dance number that closes out the film prior to the end credits.

Subsequently, Ruben plays “Ooh La La” by The Faces, which plays throughout the beginnings of the slow motion dance number and throughout the end credits. The lyrics, “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger” suggest a growth and maturity that is reflected on Max’s part in this frame. Instead of the lackadaisical/casual approach to school work that he took in the chosen frame, he takes a focused, deliberate approach to do what he has always done best – finding a passion and doing it (perhaps for the rest of his life?)…

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One response to “RUSHMORE (1998)

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

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