FILM COLUMN – Asteroid City

Scarlett Johansson in Wes Andersons' Asteroid City

ASTEROID City is based on a television show about the making of a play within the movie we are watching unfold in blazing colours on the big screen before us.

So as to be expected, in Wes Anderson’s own indelible style, we have a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Or as the director himself puts it — a fiction within a fiction within a fiction.

In his latest film, the American filmmaker pays homage to 1950s sci-fi B-Movies and Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre of live radio dramas. And as always, all the distinctive Anderson eccentricities are in place including the ensemble cast, the distinctive visual aesthetic, dry intellectual humour, eclectic soundtrack, an overwhelming sense of melancholy, and of course, Jason Schwartzman.

Asteroid City, in places, is reminiscent of Hollywood classics such as Giant, Bus Stop and The War of the Worlds, and is a film that very much seems haunted by the ghosts of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.

Anderson’s latest work brims over with themes of loneliness, loss, and the emptiness of life at the dawn of a new technological age.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

Asteroid City is the new work from esteemed playwright Cole Earp (Edward Norton). The play centres on recently widowed father Augie (Schwartzman), a grieving war photographer who travels with his tech-obsessed ‘brainiac’ son Woodrow (Jake Ryan) to a small rural desert town to compete in a junior stargazing event.

The scene is set in close proximity to a nuclear test site, where young scientists, military personnel, and a whole other oddball assortment of characters from drunken parents, a quaint school teacher, lovestruck cowboy, and tragic movie star are stuck in this scorching and desolate outpost together.

And just at a time when AI has gotten notions that it can do Wes Anderson better than he can do himself, the cinematic maestro delivers his most meditative and intriguing film to date.

Asteroid City has a real dreamlike quality, delving deep into the director’s psyche and imagination to leave us with a powerful insight into his visionary filmmaking.

One scene towards the end where the film’s characters chant in unison, seems particularly telling.

“You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep”.