There are lessons for us all in this tale of one student's unwavering ambition.
By
Demis Lyall-Wilson

22 Feb 2011 - 10:14 AM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:09 PM

There's a certain insight which comes from being from the generation whose feet are flirtatiously planted in both the world of Web 2.0 and the one which came before.

I get two-point-oh. I'm down with Beiber (though not quite a Belieber), am social-media-saturated up to the teeth, and I definitely start getting a little bit crampy every time I have to clutch an old-school biro for more than just a credit card signature.

But where I feel like I'm beginning to seem like an old man (of a ripe old mid-thirties age), is whenever I feel like abandoning the virtual – albeit briefly – and getting my hands just a little bit dirty.

I'm not knocking progress – all power to it. But in an age where there's an easy online template for everything, where your interests, life and hobbies are all 'tagged' and broadcasted, and where it's so easy to manufacture your own miniature Warholian 15 minutes in the limelight, there's something to be said for still knowing how to move people (not pixels), work with your hands, and getting out there in the sweaty old world and doing stuff.

Perhaps that's what has always drawn me to Wes Anderson's 1998 film, Rushmore.

All technical, creative and filmmaking aspects aside, it's Rushmore's central character of Max Fischer (artfully portrayed by Jason Schwartzman) which has always summed up that part of me that doesn't want to be stuck at a desk all day.

Max Fischer is a doer.

Trapped in the body of a spotty 15-year-old loser is a man of rather extreme passions, who, despite living in the greyest urban drab, manages to punch well above his weight and do things, not just dream and talk.

During the course of the film, his plan to successfully woo a young pretty teacher, Miss Cross (played by lovely Olivia Williams) is ultimately a complete failure. However it's the way he goes about his every day which appeals to the doer to me, even at a first viewing instantly rocketing the film to my 'All-time Top 5'.

We see Max direct epic plays, sometimes involving on-stage dynamite and full-size replica helicopters being flown in. Though academically an extreme underachiever, Max chases, instigates and runs practically every extra-curricular activity or hobby he can think of (everything from Go-Karting, Fencing, Kite-flying, and a Mock UN Club). When he notices his beloved teacher, Miss Cross, has a fondness for tropical fish, he sets about finding funding from a local businessman (Bill Murray) to establish a multi-million-dollar aquarium, complete with architects, contractors a fanfared ground-turning ceremony on his school's baseball pitch (without permission).

Even when things get nasty after Bill Murray's character also swoops in on Miss Cross, Max still manages to do inventive maliciousness with style. The sequence of the film where both characters go head to head trying to destroy one another is still my favourite, bringing everything from falling trees, cut brake cables and large-scale character assassination into the mix. (I can still recall choking on my popcorn the first time I saw Max emerge, slow-motion from a hotel elevator – looking like a guilty assassin – with an empty Beekeeping box, having just delivered his buzzing load.)

The whole Rushmore universe is devoid of computers or anything online, instead it's filled with delicious physical props, battered typewriters and plenty of explosives, and Anderson's mix of extraordinarily melodramatic and comfortingly ordinary characters only seem to make you want to be part of Max's enthusiastic world all the more.

Our world needs more Max Fischers.

I've always been somewhat of a doer myself, but less and less I run into people as passionate about their personal projects as they are about their jobs or the favourite television shows (assuming they have a concept of 'personal projects' to begin with).

It's so easy to enjoy the wonders of instant community and online content consumption that people are forgetting how to create, explore and innovate in the real world. How many people do you know with physical hobbies beyond the major sporting codes, Masterchef wannabes, and/or sex?

Every time I've mentioned to someone that I'd taken up Archery, or tried teaching myself the Banjo, or self-published a book, while receiving nothing but encouragement, it's still a bit saddening that I rarely get to hear a tale of similar personal exploration or development thrown back at me. People are always too busy,,or just plain uninspired.

I get that too, but whenever I'm feeling flat, I somehow return to Rushmore, and to Max Fischer, for no other reason than he's a good reminder that anyone can do anything, that you're only ever limited by your own imagination.

After all, there's no such thing as a good excuse not to try something once, just because it doesn't have a default box on your Facebook profile...

Demis Lyall-Wilson


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