The best moment in Rushmore, the one it all comes together, is at the end, when Jason Schwartzmann dedicates his play to his mother. There’s a brief cut to Seymour Cassel and his reaction. It’s a beautiful little moment and quieter than the subsequent (and also incredibly quiet) moment with Vietnam vet Bill Murray tearing after watching the play. There’s stuff going on in Rushmore and Anderson and Wilson aren’t going to explain it to us. They make us aware of it–there’s an early mention of Murray’s service and a good deal of material about Schwartzmann’s mother’s passing, but there’s never anything about Murray’s feelings about Vietnam or Cassel’s experience with his wife’s death. It’s a stunning little move, infinitely precise, which might be the best way to describe Rushmore.
The film runs ninety-three minutes. Anderson and Wilson’s narrative, so exactly told in scene, has a searching quality to it. It’s impossible to label the film–it’s not just a friendship story between Schwartzmann and Murray or a (albeit strange) romance between Schwartzmann and Olivia Williams or a romantic triangle between Schwartzmann, Williams and Murray. Rushmore is all of those things, in addition to being a father and son story, a friendship story (between Schwartzmann and sidekick Mason Gamble) and a romance between Schwartzmann and Sara Tanaka. I can’t even get into the relationship between Schwartzmann and Brian Cox. It’s all too intricate and complex. It’s a film where the way an actor walks into the frame changes a scene dramatically, so unraveling and codifying it is a lot more work than I want to do (and probably impossible without a lot of notes). It’s an exponential web.
The first time I saw Rushmore, it didn’t blow me away. Looking at it now, with the performances–there isn’t a single unimpressive performance–with Anderson and Wilson’s control of dialogue and scene, not to mention Anderson’s direction… it’s clear there was something wrong with me. The second time I saw it, I got it. But even getting it, I don’t think I really appreciated it the way one can appreciate the film now. Every line delivery is full of so much vibrance–the scenes with Schwartzmann and Williams, it’s hard to even listen, because watching Williams’s reactions to him is so great.
The film also asks a great deal of its audience. The viewer has to fill in, in an instant, what Schwartzmann’s been doing since dropping out of school–Anderson and Wilson put the the onus on the viewer to arrange all the details him or herself. Or when it has to be clear to the viewer Murray and Williams have broken up before Schwartzmann asks about it. Rushmore is not a passive experience.
As for Murray… Rushmore really is Murray’s finest performance, before he started chasing Oscars. He’s as present in scenes where people talk about him as he is in his actual scenes.
Schwartzmann runs the film. He has to carry the whole thing not just with his performance, but with his presence. Schwartzmann’s expression rarely changes, but the character development–and seeing how he’s reacting–is stunning.
Williams, Gamble, Cox, all are great, all have some fantastic scenes. The script asks a lot of the actors, because they have to sell things in short periods of time, brief moments, and everyone comes through perfectly. Williams’s performance might be the film’s best, even better than Murray’s, which seems kind of impossible but kind of not.
Rushmore is a magnificent film.