(Part 21 In An Ongoing Series)
Sic transit gloria: Glory fades. I’m Max Fischer.
Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman)
Technically, Rushmore was a 1998 movie. It schmoozed at some big-time festivals in the fall of that year, then it popped into a New York theater and an LA theater for one week in December to qualify for the ’98 movie awards. But Rushmore will always be a 1999 movie to me. It finally opened at my local suburban multiplex on Friday, February 5, 1999, and that day as soon as school was over I ran to see it, allured by all the buzz I’d heard about director Wes “Bottle Rocket” Anderson taking a giant leap forward and revitalizing The Great Bill Murray’s career. And for one of the few times in my life, the hype totally undersold my experience. Rushmore didn’t just speak to me that Friday afternoon in February ’99; it kick-started the whole heart-punching, gut-cracking, ball-tingling cinematic journey that lasted the rest of that magical year.
When Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) tells Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) she’s never met anyone quite like him, it’s totally earned. I’d never seen a character quite like Max either. So much of him is ingeniously revealed in Rushmore‘s first few minutes that I was captivated by him about as quickly as he’s later captivated by Rosemary.
I was captivated not only because of Max’s many unique facets, but also because I saw a lot of myself in him. We were both high school dilettantes striving to overachieve, yet due to extra-curricular ADD, we often fell short of our potential. We were both torn by intense desires to be liked and admired, and fiery urges of misplaced rebellion. And though we could both be precocious, we could also act like petulant children when our hearts got broken.
It was obvious that Wes Anderson & co-writer Owen Wilson saw some of themselves in Max too. The spirit of Rushmore itself is part preppy, with its fastidious mannerisms and high-art ambition, but also part punk, with its high-school theater adaptations of Serpico and hysterically ruthless grudge matches.
But with every viewing of Rushmore I’ve enjoyed over the past 14 years, it’s the movie’s compassion that hits me harder each time. I thought it was sweet when I saw it on that February ’99 afternoon, but I didn’t fully appreciate how tender it was. Maybe deep down I knew I was much further away from the emotional maturity Max was able to reach in just a few short months, and I was jealous. I didn’t quite get there myself until well into my early 20s (if I ever completely got there at all). Now I look at Max Fischer, and at my younger self, and I reflect upon how I’ve been on various sides of various love triangles since then, and how much it both hurts and helps to be on each side at least once in your life. And I wanna punch that young man in the nose and then wrap him in a big bear hug and say Glory fades, but so does heartache, you beautiful sniveling bastard… Now get back up and write another hit play.