The Royal Tenenbaums is painstakingly and powerfully colorful. The use of color and space in the film is an intentional use of characterization throughout the film. The phenomenal use of color and space tells the story through a series of aesthetic visuals. The color scheme of bright vibrant colors depicts the bright potential of each broken individual.
The Royal Tenenbaums, created by Wes Anderson, is an intricate tale of a genially broken family of three children, Chas, Richie, and Margot. Their father, Royal, tries to make up for not communicating for years by telling them that he is dying. He in fact is not dying. This dysfunctional family oriented tale illustrates relationships through the genius use of color and space.
Mise en scene refers to the visual story telling of a film or the intentional placement of objects or characters on a set. Color and space stand out unmistakably throughout the film.
It seems the dimmer the message of the theme, the brighter the color scheme and lighting. Richie chooses to sleep in a tent filled with boyish planet themed decorations and bright lights. Richie ran away from his childhood at a young age and now is sleeping a fold up tent filled with vibrant color and props from his childhood.
Most interestingly, each character seems to represent a reappearing color scheme which becomes their uniform or costume. Margot wears Lacoste dresses, usually striped with a large fur coat over the dresses. The brown coat and black eyeliner on her face contrasts with her seemingly pleasant dresses and perfect hairstyle. Margot lives a secretive life; her covered color scheme represents that. Richie has a theme of beige circulating as well. In addition, Eli, who wishes he was part of the family, fits into the beige motif as well. He is trying to reach Margot and also take the place of Richie, more or less. Chas has conditioned Ari and Uzi to abide by a certain bright red jumpsuit uniform. This signifies not only the structure, but also obedience and fear in their lives. Royal’s outfits are always bursting with color and personality, probably to make up for his guilt. Pagoda, who is Royal’s Indian assistant, wears pink pants and his entire room shouts the colorful spirit of India.
An intriguing use of color and space is depicted in Chapter 8. Royal and Chas meet in a closet full of board games. The over abundance of the stacks of Operation, Clue, and Sorry signify a lighter meaning. Chas pulled Royal into the closet to yell at him. Chas cannot stand his father and resents his past. The confined space represents the tension and hostility between the father and son, yet, the color and nostalgic sense of childhood from the board games tells otherwise.
Chas, Uzi, and Ari’s house is vastly open, white, clean, and modern in contrast to the mise en scene throughout the rest of the film. Chas Tenenbaum aims to live a safe life after the death of his wife especially.
Another example of the importance of the use of space to depict character is when Royal is at the top of the stairs talking to Margot. There is a beautiful shot including the entirety of the flights of stairs. Margot is at the bottom of the stairs. He says, “You used to be a genius.” She does not speak for a moment and then says, “No, I didn’t.” He then follows by saying, “That’s what they used to say.” This conversation is much like the set up of the scene. The winding staircase, full of vibrant color is an obstacle between the relationship of father and daughter. They are flights of stairs apart.
Richie speaks with Raleigh on top of the roof. The illuminating theme of freedom is in the air and the openness. In this scene, they discuss a possible affair that Margot is having, a subject of which they both are passionate. The openness in the sky and on the roof illustrates the endless possibilities of understanding and finding the culprit.
Of course, the montages in the film are most memorable and noteworthy. Each is bright and the props in the background help signify each character. Even the night scenes are brightly lit; unnaturally lit in fact. When Etheline, Pagoda, Royal, and Henry were outside, the lighting is not from a streetlight or a house; it is completely done for an effect. The Tenenbaums illuminate each location they walk onto.
This film is intentionally illuminated. It does a beautiful illustration of introducing each character through light and space.