Wes Anderson & the Buckaroo Banzai Principle

I wrote a post here nearly two years ago (at my yearly movie outing, so sad!) about Wes Anderson.  Today, I watched “The Life Aquatic” again on DVD and though I adore it, it was as if I had never seen it before.  Turns out I barely remembered the movie, though it’s my favorite of Anderson’s.  I noticed things this time I either saw and forgot or never saw.  I watched the background this time, allowed myself to look away from the principal humans and around the room, as it were, and linger in my tour of the Belafonte.

The film’s similarities to “Buckaroo Banzai” (another favorite film) were more beautifully apparent this time.  One Banzai moment with Team Zissou was the curtain call, which some loving film geek posted here in mashup.  (There’s also the Jeff Goldblum connection linking the two films.  And as my husband said, TZ would have mirrored BB and the Honk Kong Cavaliers more fully had they brought back Ned for the curtain call, as  W. D. Richter did with Rawhide.  But not bringing Ned back does a more authentic job of continuing and closing the film’s narrative rather than opening it up, so maybe in the lineage of collective filmmaker evolution, this omission makes some sense.)

But in addition to the visual homages that Anderson paid Banzai et al, much more fundamentally, he followed the Buckaroo Banzai Principle as outlined here.  It’s, briefly:

When a work of fiction is so confident in itself that the reader just enters the world and goes with it.

Applies equally to a written or cinematic world, but as I thought about it today, I realized how I’m not quite doing that with my new novel, and thought of one little way that I can follow the BBP more closely.  For which I owe Mr. Anderson a card of thanks.  If only I had some Kinglsey (Ned) Zissou corrsepondance stock.

(Dear Mr. Anderson, if you are reading this:  Thank you.  Thank you for caring enough about your audience to make something so fully realized.  Thank you for following your own obsessions and idiosyncrasies with such commitment and grace.  Thank you for Seu Gorge reinterpreting Bowie.  Thank you for your hard work, which looks effortless as breathing in and breathing out.)

The Buckaroo Banzai Principle

“The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension” is near the pinnacle on my list of my top favorite movies, ever, of all time. It’s got everything a girl could dream of: brain surgery, aliens, a cornet solo, an unexplained watermelon, Rasta aliens carrying bubble-wrap glasses to view their leaders’ video-letters, a kid named Scooter who outsmarts the Secretary of Defense, John Bigboote… I could go on.

Those of you who know, know.

But for those of you who don’t know: In the film, Buckaroo Banzai and his band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, are also stars of a very popular comic book. Early in the movie, Buckaroo and one of his entourage, a hot 80s blonde guy named “Perfect Tommy,” are walking down a cellblock, looking for “Penny Priddy” (played by Ellen Barkin) to bail her out. Someone from another cell reaches toward Perfect Tommy, he dodges the hand, and you hear a female prisoner’s voice say, “Oh my Gawwwwd, Perfect Tommy!”

There’s no room for doubting this world; we just accept that everyone knows who Perfect Tommy is. Of course we hear a woman calling after his tall, handsome, bleach-blonde self as he walks down the hall, because she’s probably just read the latest comic. We trust that someday, “Reno” will tell us later about that mysterious watermelon in the lab.

Meanwhile, NEW JERSEY and RENO NEVADA are searching another lab. They pass
racks of equipment, including a large watermelon clamped into some sort of

Why is there a watermelon there?

I’ll tell you later.

My husband and I refer to this phenomenon as “The Buckaroo Banzai Principle.” When a work of fiction is so confident in itself that the reader just enters the world and goes with it. I aim for that in my work, and hope, someday, to achieve it.

(Recently, one of my students informed me of something, so I should probably stop waiting for the sequel, billed at the end of this film thusly:



because, among other things, Peter Weller, who played Buckaroo, is getting his PhD in Renaissance Art at UCLA. Oh my Gawwwwd, maybe he really IS Buckaroo!)