While this was an attempt to celebrate his unorthodox aesthetic, paying homage to some of his more popular works, such as his leap into animation, Fantastic Mr.Fox (2009), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and The French Dispatch (2021) (almost all of the shorts revolved around a recognizable theme, Obituary, from the soundtrack), Anderson seems dismayed by the audience’s emphasis on his style, but not the content of his works. “Is this really how people see my films?” Anderson ponders in an interview with Collider. “Even if the form is essential, a film is first and foremost a script, a cast…”. After all, a beautiful shell is still a shell, the story must be aided by the form, not the other way around.
Anderson proves this point with his latest works: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and its three sibling films: The Rat Catcher, Poison, and The Swan, in his first partnership with Netflix. In fact, according to another interview with Deadline, Anderson had been dreaming of filming Henry Sugar for a while, but had concerns with adaptation from the original novel by Roahl Dahl.
The film revolves around a character nicknamed “Henry Sugar” for the sake of animosity: Henry trains and meditates daily like an Indian monk he had read about to see through cards at his local casino. Dahl tells the story in real time, and as that happens, so do the characters, all aware that they are acting and, in a way, performing the scenes out like acts in a theater with the sole purpose of explaining the story. While this happens, a hundred moving props and set constructors whirl around moving characters to set the scene. The cinematography involves dolly shots from miniature replications to real life, seamless transitions from prop to prop, and on-stage tricks like quick dress changes, all the while boasting the beautiful symmetry and colors of Anderson’s worldbuilding.
The meta-narrative world goes into different stories within the stories, from a scene of Roahl Dahl telling a story about Henry Sugar who reads a story about a doctor who tells his story about a monk, and the likes. The characters hardly move, but the world changes around them, from backgrounds of early London to India, a library, circus, and casino, crossing space and time non-linearly, creating a dreamlike world. The mastermind behind the elaborate set design, Adam Stockhausen mustered his background in theater and procured interlacing and well-timed sliding background sets, props, and intricate tricks like a few trompe l'œils, in this case, the apple boxes that were slid to the perfect position to create a camouflage illusion, to mimic levitation.