The Royal Tenebaums (2001) – Funny, Then Sad, Then Funny Again

When it comes to Wes Anderson films, there is always a lot to talk about. I could talk about shot compositions, the soundtrack choices, the acting, or so much more. But, what I want to talk about is how the The Royal Tenebaums (2001) handles humor. Specifically, how it handles humor in a scene involving suicide.

Trigger warning for the scene below, as it depicts a suicide attempt.

Before this scene is a rather humorous scene of a man finding out that his wife is having an affair. Then it goes into this heart breaking scene of Luke Wilson’s character attempting suicide. Then, when someone finds him, it is played for laughs. Only then to show another heart breaking scene of the character’s mother getting the news. Then there is a goofy transition shot of a dog sticking his head out the window of a car on the way to the hospital. Then, another sad shot of the character’s sister running through the hospital. Only to then end on another joke. The emotional whiplash is incredible.

Wes Anderson movies are known for their largely quirky and off beat humor. I’d say this scene, or collection of scenes, is a prime example.

The laughs are made stronger through the juxtaposition of the tragic scenes. And the tragic scenes are in turn made more tragic through the use of jokes as punctuation to the tragedy.

Think of it like when a child swears in church. You aren’t supposed to laugh. In fact, you probably shouldn’t laugh. But the sheer fact that you shouldn’t be laughing makes it all the more funny. This scene functions the same way. Suicide is never funny. The audience knows they shouldn’t laugh. But that just makes the jokes even funnier.

Or at least, that’s how the scene works for me. I will definitely make a note to search out more Wes Anderson films after this one.

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