Bees in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore
The swarm of the bees scene in Wes Anderson’s 1998 comedy film Rushmore sees Herman J Blume (Bill Murray) subjected to further revenge for his romantic involvement with Miss Cross (Olivia Williams). Blume is rattled by an infiltration of bees in his hotel suite, orchestrated by the outraged Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), former president of the Rushmore Beekeepers. Anderson adopts not only live bees, but crafts elaborate symbolic representations of the insects visible in a variety of forms from costume to breakfast items throughout the film. This meticulous commitment to visual style is infused with substance through the bee and its persistent presence around Max. Bees are not singularly defined in the film, appearing in various representations from the opening scene in which Max, the only student in a blazer, is introduced with a lingering shot on his uniform emblem which consists partly of an embroidered bee.
Max wears the bee logo with pride, and donates one of his prized enamel badges, which also harbours the bee illustration, to Blume as a symbol of endearment and friendship. Max is also the proud president of the Rushmore Beekeepers society, founded by Cross’ late husband. Each instance in which these individually designed bee representations appear, often in scenes lasting only seconds, The uniform emblem further develops the substance of the bee beyond the purely visual through pre-conceived notions surrounding the bee and devoted work. Max adopts the bee, both live and symbolised, to attempt to create an image of success and professionalism, potentially to distract from his substandard school grades and to defy the limitations placed in him by his young age.
Max uses his connection to the Beekeepers for his unconventional revenge scheme, treating the live bees with far less respect than their embroidered counterparts by piping them into a hotel suite before fleeing the scene. The scene opens on a stationary shot of Blume’s breakfast laden table in which mise-en-scene has been carefully crafted to frame a single bee as its dark, crawling body creates initial intrigue in the untypical environment. The blocking of this scene places a wicker bowl behind the bee, containing an arrangement of bee-based products such as a jar labelled ‘Pure Honey’ and a beeswax model of a bear. These items may reflect a typical human to bee relationship, the bee as producer of goods for human pleasure, but otherwise quite unwelcome in close proximity.
To the right of the frame, Blume’s hand holds a newspaper suggesting that he is engrossed in his reading and therefore oblivious to the bee nearby. We gain the exclusive insight into the bee’s presence as the, ‘Enjoy your Stay’ place-card begins to feel humorously optimistic, as bees have become synonymous with Max through his costuming and beekeeping involvement.
Anderson separates the bee from its stylish, contained iconography by the ominous materialisation of the physical, audible insect. The bee is released from its visual confines in Anderson’s precise costume and set design as Max’s passion plumes into chaotic fury, unable to maintain his calculated image of maturity. Despite the intradiegetic buzzing highlighting the bee’s flight away from the table and out of shot, Blume remains unfazed. A cut to a wider shot of the scene encourages our eye to search for the flighty bee, before three bees rise from the frame causing Blume to swipe and yell, presumably in an attempt to deter or kill the bees. Max has used his connection to the Beekeepers to create a materialisation and extension for his rage with the swarm of bees, which are framed as willing participants in the chaos. Before we react with disgust and fear at the crescendo of Blume’s distress, a zoom shot illustrates his eye line as the pipe discharging the bees is revealed, with Blume’s response to the method of infiltration evident in his face.
A cut to a close up of Blume with a smirk of satisfaction, before a look of determination overtakes his face, provokes a positive reception of the antics and excites us as we ponder how the revenge plots will develop. In this final look into Blume’s suite, the bees have also subsided, no longer swarming him which reveals the practical reality of the bees as they are not likely interested in the man unless aggressively provoked. With his deployment of the bees, Max has earned respect from Blume culminating in the ultimate sign of endearment later in the film as Max gifts Blume one of his prized bee enamel badges. From this, it is evident that the manipulation of the bee for incessant stylistic representations, both live and symbolised, harbours powerful substance, illuminating the power of a single bee.
Rushmore. Dir. Wes Anderson. (1998) Buena Vista Pictures. USA.
All images included in this Zoom are from: Rushmore. Dir. Wes Anderson. 1998. Buena Vista Pictures. USA.