My Favorite Movies: Rushmore

Rushmore the 1998 Movie Starring Jason Schwartzman

Guest blogger Jason writes:

I feel like there are so many movies out there, even for a form of entertainment that is less than a century old, that are widely considered to be the best examples of what the medium of film can be. Some of these I agree with, and some I don’t.

My personal favorites vary from being on these list, and being far from them. I can appreciate why certain people love the same movies I do, though maybe for different reasons, and why they might also hate some of the movies I love. A movie might have well-developed characters with an interesting arc and an original story that takes unforeseeable twists and turns, but if you don’t like the composition of the shots or the soundtrack, none of that matters. Or you could just be a jerk and say, “It’s stupid cause it looks stupid.” Either way, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.

And this is mine. And since this is the forum for this kind of talk, and since no one’s posted anything in the last five days, I might as well let it be heard.

So, every time I watch one of my favorite movies of all time, I’m going to come on here and justify it. Because I know that for every one of them, there’s someone out there who hates it. And I don’t care. It doesn’t have to be everyone’s favorite movie to be mine.

So, we’ll start with Rushmore.

I first saw Rushmore when I was about fourteen, a freshman in high school, and I think I was just starting to really get into movies. The Royal Tenenbaums was about to come out, and I had been reading about it, seeing the trailers, wanting to see it more and more as it got closer to its release date. So, I figured the next best thing to do would be see the other widely available collaboration between Wes Anderson and that guy with the weird nose from The Haunting, Rushmore.

As soon as the Creation song “Making Time” comes blaring out with images of this strange little man in these thick glasses fencing and beekeeping and stamp collecting, along with a multitude of other activities shot with the same catalogue sensibility that Wes Anderson has become famous for, I knew this was something different. At the time, I’d never seen anything like this before, and other than in his other movies, I still haven’t seen anything like it really. You can see bits and pieces of similar shots in some of Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick’s movies, the centering, the composition of actors in the frame, but never has it been done so consistently in a movie as to let it become, and exist in, its own universe, quite like it’s done in Wes Anderson’s movies. I’ve come to love this style in all of Anderson’s movies, but I guess I can understand why some people don’t. This isn’t reality, but it’s not so far off that it’s unrecognizable. It’s life from a certain point of view, which any distinguishable director should try to utilize. Otherwise, what’s the point in trying to have a point of view at all.

But aside from the direction, here we’ve got two of the greatest original characters of probably the last twenty years: Max Fischer and Herman Blume (played by Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray). Now, I’ve hated movies for having characters like Max Fischer in them (Smart People, The Squid and the Whale, etc.), but the difference is, where those movies have assholes hiding under the guise of intellectualism, Max Fischer is not intelligent. He is one of the worst students at Rushmore and despite being involved in dozens of clubs, sports, activities, and rallies he is just not a very good student. He’s clever and thrifty, but he’s also kind of dumb, and it often comes out when he’s challenged by people smarter than him. He loves the idea of “school”, but not the educational basis behind it.

And Herman Blume is a character we’ve seen many times before: the older, wiser man who is just sick of his life, but stuck with nowhere else to go. But somehow, and maybe it’s got more to do with Bill Murray’s performance than anything else, he is the best example of this archetype than any other version of it I’ve seen before. He doesn’t let his position keep him from exploding into violent outbursts, or being completely honest about it. He hates his family and lets them know it. He’s got nothing left to lose, and let’s that motivate him towards taking not risky, but downright stupid bets on the worst student at Rushmore, and pursuing a relationship with a woman who he knows is in love with a dead man.

But beyond the music, and the dialogue, and the amazing direction and story of these two men being told here, what brings me back to this movie is this theme of what “Rushmore” means to Max. Near the beginning of the movie, as we’re just being introduced to these characters, as Herman asks Max what his secret is, how he can go through life with such an optimistic, overconfident attitude. And Max responds, “The secret…I don’t know. I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then do it for the rest of your life. For me, it’s going to Rushmore.”

Max is lucky enough to have, after sixteen years of life, found his one thing that he loves, while most people, including Herman, have lived their whole lives and still haven’t found it. And it’s this great idea that there’s something out there worth living for, and all we’ve got to do is find it and keep pursuing it, that I love about this movie. Seeing this at around the same age that Max is, I looked around and thought about what I was doing with my life. The point of all the homework, why I was bothering to try and learn all of this information that I would either never need or forget before I did. It was at this point that I realized that academia…eh, not my Rushmore.

So, I did the work, got the grades I needed. But as I kept finding more movies like this, watching them, listening to commentaries, learning about making movies, trying to make good movies, I think I found something there. I felt that if I could make something like this, I would’ve finally been satisfied. This is one of the films that makes me want to make films.

And that is why Rushmore is one of my favorite movies.

Jason Taylor is an independent filmmaker from Pennsylvania who has seen more than 2000 movies. You can read more of his writing at That Was Junk.