Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Royal Tenenbaum fears he’ll be eulogized as an asshole, someone who let his family down without remorse. He’d prefer to be remembered as a son of a bitch — a disappointment only because his family knows he can be better if he so chooses.
Crude, but it’s the crux of The Royal Tenenbaums — Wes Anderson’s 2001 comic drama about a family fractured by envy and fumbling for empathy at the insistence of a patriarch, perfectly played by Gene Hackman with affection and antagonism.
Abandoned by Royal and reared by their mother Etheline (Anjelica Huston), Chas, Richie and Margot Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow) have grown from promising child prodigies into inert adults stifled by fear. Royal prompts an unwelcome reunion when declaring, perhaps falsely, that he’s dying.
Anderson’s meditation on death and family incorporates his most chilling scene to date, but addresses how focus sharpens as the end approaches. Royal realizes just how loudly his thoughtless words echo in his children’s ears. For all his rude behavior, Royal’s twilight wishes are simple: Slivers of atonement and forgiveness would go a long way, and he’d like his grandkids to call him Pappy.
Royal’s ship sailed long ago, but reflecting on his regrets may reverse the course for his kids. It’s a thin olive branch, but an olive branch nevertheless, beautifully reflected in Anderson’s most poetic final shot — an epitaph that, as both a load of bull and a figurative truth, befits the son of a bitch buried beneath it.