Wes Anderson’s Ability to Make us Feel Comforted
Colour has been applied to film for nearly as long as film has been an art form. Originally the film prints of movies were hand-painted with a simple tint; red for anger, blue for sadness. Already colour psychology was being used as a form of symbolism to cause affect in the audience.
More broadly, colour helps allow the audience to create snap judgements (“Color Meaning and Psychology — graf1x.com”, 2020). Studies have shown approximately 90% of the judgements audiences make are based on colour alone (ibid). In film, where stereotypes and genre conventions help aide the storytelling process, the use of colour can help enhance the representations and symbolism present in the scene. Where stereotypes help tell the audience about a character’s personality, and genre helps inform the audience on what to expect from the film, colour provides the audience with clues regarding the emotional connection to the scene. Simply using colour psychology, audiences understand when the tone of the scene is anger (red), sadness (blue), or joyful (yellow).
But why do Wes Anderson films offer comfort even when the overall colouring of the film suggests we should feel sadness, like in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)?
Firstly, colours such as blue aren’t specific to negative emotions. Blue can also affect audiences to feel faith, trust, and contentment (Fusco, 2016). While red can be used for anger, it can also be used for love, desire, excitement and energy (ibid). However, these mixed meanings are not necessarily the reason we feel comfort within an Anderson film. Colour grading isn’t necessarily the enhancement of a particular colour, but also the colour’s values and hues.
Anderson frequently mutes his colour palette through the incorporation of pastel costuming and set design, but also a desaturation within the colour grade. Colour psychology has shown the lower saturation values of a colour, the more comfort we feel towards the object (“Color Meaning and Psychology — graf1x.com”, 2020). Paired with low colour values are also the pastels seen throughout his filmography. Pastels are created when adding white into the colours. Therefore, it can be concluded that the addition of white into Anderson’s overall colour palette helps enhance the affect of comfort and optimism (“Why Do I Like Pastel Colors | Pastel Colors Psychology?”, 2018).
Above is a screenshot from Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Within this shot, the audience is drawn to Suzy and her dress. Colour is typically the first thing a person will notice about a product (“Color Meaning and Psychology — graf1x.com”, 2020) with the colour pink symbolising the immaturity of her character. This technique has been enhanced by the low saturation and overall yellow tint seen in the colouring. By muting the colours, the feeling of comfort is encouraged within the audience’s response. Not only that, but the inclusion of a yellow tint throughout has exaggerated the warmth within the film, encouraging the audience to feel enjoyment from the production.
Another example of pastel colours can be seen in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Here baby pink is a predominate colour, once again toned down through a desaturated colour grade but also the pastel tonal value. In contrast to pink is baby blue, which is being used here to emphasis the trust Hero is asking of Agatha.
Lastly, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). Throughout the film, the tones of orange are rather predominate. Not only does this colour match the expectations of colouring for a red fox, but also enhances the emotions of humour and enthusiasm (Fusco, 2016). And yet, Anderson continues to desaturate the film through his colour grade. This, again, encourages the audience to respond to his filmography with comfort.
The feeling of comfort allows the audience to engage with Anderson’s filmography with a sense of excitement and optimism. He uses traditional colour psychology to enhance the emotional response from his audience, but the additional desaturation and muted tones of his colouring add an additional affect.
Color Meaning and Psychology — graf1x.com. (2020). Retrieved 24 November 2020, from https://graf1x.com/color-psychology-emotion-meaning-poster/
Fusco, J. (2016). The Psychology of Color in Film (with examples). Retrieved 24 November 2020, from https://nofilmschool.com/2016/06/watch-psychology-color-film
Why Do I Like Pastel Colors | Pastel Colors Psychology?. (2018). Retrieved 24 November 2020, from http://kuldeepaggarwal.com/pastel-colors