Incomparable Commitment

Max Fischer is the publisher of “Yankee Review,” president of the French club, the Rushmore Beekeepers, and calligraphy club, represents Russia in the model United Nations, is Vice President of the Stamp and Coin club, Captain of the Debate team and fencing team, Lacrosse Team Manager, 2nd Chorale Choirmaster, founder of the Astronomy Society, the Bombardment Society, the Yankee Racers and the Track & Skeet club, Yellow belt in the Kung Fu club, JV Decathlon for Track & Field, Director of Max Fischer Players, and 4.5 Hours logged in the Piper Cub club. Max Fischer is an activity jock, one of those kids too bright and restless to color inside the lines.

Jason Schwartzman plays Max Fischer, Rushmore Academy’s most enthusiastic and least scholarly student. Max’s secret shame is that he attends Rushmore on a scholarship. Like Charlie Brown, his father is a barber; unlike Charlie Brown, he tells everyone that his father is a neurosurgeon. Always dressed in a tie and blazer, unless in costume for one of his activities, he speaks with maturity and is barely able to conceal his feelings of superiority for every adult he interacts with, who enforce their stuffy rules because they are not, and never were, able to work without a net the way Max can.

It seems to be Max against the world, until he catches the attention of Herman Blume. Blume, a depressed industrialist played by Bill Murray, doesn’t have much in common with Max, but they fascinate each other. Herman sees Max as someone who hasn’t yet lost enthusiasm for the world around him, even if he’s mostly enthusiastic about a fantasy world he’s creating. They eventually become interested in the same woman, a second grade teacher named Rosemary Cross — and that’s where their paths diverge. The movie turns into a strategic duel for Ms. Cross’ heart between Max and Blume, that is funny up until it gets mean with Max spilling the beans to Blume’s wife.

The heart of the movie is not how charming or quirky Max is, but rather his dedication. If you’re paying attention, it’s clear that Max’s manias are fueled as much by unhappiness as they are by narcissism. When he tells Ms. Cross that Harvard is his safety school if he doesn’t get into Oxford or the Sorbonne, he’s not just trying to impress her; that’s really the standard he holds himself to. It is revealed that he does this because his mother, who encouraged him to write plays and got him into Rushmore Academy, died of cancer. It’s ingenious the way Max uses his political and organizational abilities to get his way with people; how he enlists a younger student as his gofer, how he reasons patiently with the headmaster, and thinks he can talk Miss Cross into being his girlfriend.

The culmination of Max’s dedication all builds to this film’s satisfying ending. Max puts on a play at his new school about the Vietnam War and invites everyone from the rest of the film; no villain is excluded as a condition of the heroes’ happiness. At the afterparty, they all get along wonderfully. In the first play of Max’s we see, it’s apparent that he’s interested in the acclaim it can bring him. In the last play, he has discovered the more rewarding purpose that art and dedication can serve. He has created an environment in which all injuries can be healed, all sorrows forgotten. It takes heroic efforts (and in Max’s case, flamethrowers, dynamite, and a wildly inaccurate understanding of the Vietnam War), and it never lasts long, but it’s what dedicated art can do at its very best.
“..at least nobody got hurt” Says Max.
“Except you” Responds Miss Cross.
“Nah, I didn’t get hurt that bad”

In the final shot, as if in recognition of how fleeting happiness and reconciliation like this always are, Anderson uses more frames per second to stretch the moment out as long as possible. Those moments in life always playback in our memories that way.


Seen in our #Dedication issue

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