Already in limited release, Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” opens in a wider release this weekend, Friday, June 23. Essentially split into two parts, the film centers on a grieving father (Jason Schwartzman) who travels with his tech-obsessed family to a small rural ‘Asteroid City’ to compete in a junior stargazing event, only to have his perspective on life— his cosmology as it where— disrupted forever by world-altering events. Concurrently, the meta-like film also focuses on a playwright (Edward Norton) and theater director (Adrien Brody) trying to write and mount a world-famous fictional play about… you guessed it, that aforementioned grieving father and the life-altering events that radically alter his life and everyone in Asteroid City.
The theater tale is a black and white New York story told in an “All About Eve”-esque ratatat manner with actors like Bryan Cranston acting as the movie’s narrator. The desert-set tale with its dusty pastels—perhaps akin to a more “regular” Wes Anderson film and featuring Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, and a host of Anderson regulars and newbies, is more melancholic, about loss, with the potential for new love, but tainted by a lot of uncertainty. But what does this big celestial soup of ideas mean, some have asked?
Well, if something ties it all together, it’s perhaps that doubt and apprehension and the questions it raises. For the characters in ‘Asteroid City,’ it’s about the unknowingness of the universe, the unfathomable events of their story, and how it makes them question their place in the cosmos and all they know. For the New York theater set, perhaps it all comes together with the same sense of uncertainty: you don’t know what you’re creating when you are creating, but in the madness of life, filled with grief, chaos, disruption, and calamity, sometimes the only brave choice is to forge forward with those artistic choices regardless.
At one point in the movie within the movie, Jason Schwartzman’s character in the black-and-white version of the movie has a crisis of artistic faith, asking Adrien Brody’s theater director what is the meaning of all of this? What’s the point? And Brody’s Schubert Green character says, essentially, “It doesn’t matter, just keep telling the story.”
It’s something that many of the actors in the film can relate to. “I think it’s a healthy mantra to carry on,” Brody said in a video interview with The Playlist (which you can see below). “At times, things aren’t always clear. Oftentimes as an actor, you can see that moment, how I’m not finding the truth of a certain moment, [but] you have to carry on.”
Sitting with Jeffrey Wright, who plays General Gibson, a military liaison in the film, the actor agreed that sometimes artistically, you do have that crisis of faith, but you have to trust the artistic process.
“As storytellers [sometimes it’s like] what are we doing?” he explained. “This work that we do; does it have meaning? And if you’re trying to do something that is worthwhile and not just indulgent, then you are at least attempting to organize some aspect of life for yourself and for the audience, and there’s meaning in that. We’re just trying to make sense of it all, and we’re just trying to survive it all and press forward.”
Much of it is a perfect metaphor for the film. “It’s a mantra for life. Uncertain times, shifting times, but dammit, just keep going, just keep pushing; I found that moment to be very poignant,” he said.
We also spoke with Jason Schwartzman and Scarlett Johansson (who spoke about getting typecast as the ingenue in her early ‘20s), Maya Hawke, and Rupert Friend.
And it was Schwartzman who found a lot of similar parallels and themes between the movie and the meaning and uncertainty of things. In this movie, his character Augie Steenbeck is faced with great grief and the loss of his life and tries to grapple with the cruel inexplicableness of what has happened. In the story, Augie has to contend with “Why is this happening? Does it mean anything? What is the greater meaning behind this?” Schwartzman asked rhetorically, veering into the more significant questions the movie asks about our existence in the cosmos and our purpose. “Are we the only ones here? And what are we supposed to do, question it or keep going?”
Ponder away, check out the full video interviews below, and check out “Asteroid City,” which Focus Features puts into wide release this weekend.
– Video and additional reporting by Griffin Schiller.