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  • Writer's picturezandaleeindigo

Asteroid City and Living in Limbo

Wes Anderson's Asteroid City is one of his most ambitious films yet. A meta narrative about a play within a play within a broadcast, the movie touches on subjects ranging from grief and the inability to fully process emotions to examining art and desperately seeking to understand yourself.

The film is set up with a framing device, a 1950s broadcast of the play "Asteroid City," the remainder of the movie is full of vignettes of actual scenes from the play (shot in color) and pieces of the making of the show (shot in black and white). There's a lot to chew on in the film, from the choice of Anderson to set it in the 50s with the backdrop of nuclear anxieties to the introduction of the alien and the small towns response. What stuck with me most though, was the story surrounding the creation of the play, specifically Jason Schwartzman's character, Jones Hall playing the role of Augie Steenbeck.

Augie and his father in law (played by Tom Hanks)

Within the play, Augie is a gruff man with four children: three daughters and his son, Woodrow. We learn early in the film that he is a recent widower but he has yet to deliver the news to his children. After being pressured by his father in law, Augie reluctantly breaks the news to his kids and very awkwardly comforts them as they try to understand their mother has been gone for three weeks. It's revealed the family is staying in Asteroid City for a competition for gifted children that Woodrow is apart of and this small town event has brought in a cast of characters who are also competing. Among this cast is famous actress Midge Campbell and her daughter Dinah.

Scarlett Johansson as Midge Campbell

While Dinah and Woodrow spend time together with the other brainiacs, Augie and Midge connect over their emotional unavailability. Midge, who's currently working on a role, indulges in method acting in an attempt to activate her emotions and connect with her character. She paints greasepaint over her eye to give it a bruising affect and lays in her tub surrounded by pills while she rehearses a suicide scene. She recruits Augie to read with her and encourages him to use his grief while they rehearse, forcing him to face it head on.

In a cutaway scene to the play within the broadcast, Jones Hall has an interaction with the playwright Conrad Earp where he asks why his character burns his hand on a small stove in the third act. He confesses he thinks it might be because his character is trying to get his heart to stop beating so fast but expresses confusion about the true motivation. The two men don't come to a conclusion.

Over the course of the play within the play, the residents of Asteroid City experience an extraterrestrial event when an alien stops by to steal the small asteroid they've commemorated in the middle of town. The second half of the movie sees all the inhabitants reckoning with this discovery and seeking to understand what it may mean. Later, the alien returns the meteorite fragment and the government response of instituting a mandatory quarantine sends the town into a frenzy.

And at this moment, the climax of the play Jones Hall (the actor playing Augie) breaks the fourth wall and leaves the stage, still desperately confused about his characters motivation for burning himself. He finds the director of the show, Schubert Green, backstage and pleads with him confessing he's worried he's not doing the character justice, looking for an answer to lock him in. Green doesn't give one, telling Hall that even though he doesn't understand the play, "It doesn't matter, just keep telling the story." Unable to fully wrap his head around this Hall steps out, saying he has to get some fresh air to which Green gives my favorite line in the whole film, "You won't find it."

Adrien Brody and Hong Chau as the director, Shubert Green and his wife

I'm 22 years old. I just graduated college with a BFA in Musical Theatre. And I feel a lot like Hall. I"m not completely lost, I have a plan, a script that tells me what I need to do and shows me the trajectory of my character and the steps I take to get there. But at times I feel like I'm missing that motivation. That there's a piece of myself I have yet to discover, to fully understand in order to get where I need to go.

That nagging feeling in my gut sometimes manifests itself as a feeling of dread, a heavy thing that weighs on me and keeps me in bed for a few more hours or isolates me from friends for a few days. Sometimes it's an anxious buzz in my chest that doesn't allow me to relax for days at a time, because I need to be doing something though I'm not sure what.

And while I'm in this weird in-between in my life I decided I could have more time for things I've been meaning to do that I didn't have time for with such a hectic school schedule, like writing or making YouTube videos about things I'm passionate about. But then that feeling rears its head again and suddenly I'm worried that maybe I have nothing to say and maybe if I keep putting it off longer and longer, one day I'll wake up and just Know. I'll be confident and qualified and know exactly what to say and do to be successful at all the things I want in life. I'll understand my motivation.

Augie and the infamous grill

There's a scene in Asteroid City (the play within the broadcast) where the playwright is sitting in on an acting class trying to perfect a scene where he wants all the residents of the small town to be lulled to sleep at the same time. The scene quickly becomes surreal and the actors begin chanting the phrase "you can't wake up if you don't fall asleep." After this scene in my theater two girls who were particularly chatty sitting in front of me nervously laughed and let out a befuddled "What?!" in response.

I think though, that scene is the perfect response to the struggle Jones Hall is grappling with scenes prior. We're never going to have all the answers. There are some elements of characters and of the human experience we'll likely never fully understand. The most important thing is that we tell the story. That we take the risk. That we keep living. Because you will never be able to understand something if you don't spend time with it. Whether that's a character you're playing, or feelings you're experiencing, or a skill you want to get better at.

You can't wake up if you don't allow yourself to sleep.

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1 komentář

29. 6. 2023

I like that line. What’s so unusual about this wisdom is that it really DOESN’T matter how old you get, it’s still a valid approach to taking WHATEVER that next step is. 😬💡

-— As always, thanks for sharing what’s on your heart. ❤️😊👏🏾

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