The new film by one of my favorite living directors opens tomorrow, and I don’t know if I’m going to see it.

I still haven’t seen his last one, for one reason.

I’m afraid to.

Wes Anderson’s first films — “Bottle Rocket” (1996), “Rushmore” (1998) and “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) — are three of my favorite movies in the world. Comedies by definition, each film is the product of as unique and specific a cinematic vision as I’ve ever seen.

Apart from elements each has in common (Luke and Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, pitch-perfect soundtracks of eclectic songs, signature production design comprised of equal parts J.D. Salinger, retro fashions and old library books), Anderson’s movies have as their most identifiable feature a sublime balance of deadpan comedy and lurking sadness. Each film, staggeringly complete in itself, successively refined this seemingly incongruous mixture of elements until, after seeing “The Royal Tenenbaums,” I remember feeling elation, devastation and, yeah, awe as I wandered out of the Nickelodeon Cinema.

I didn’t want to talk about the movie, write about it or even vent my feelings on the Internet. I’d just seen something that validated my feelings for what movies could be, even if I couldn’t (and obviously still can’t) adequately explain what that was.

Then, in 2004, I saw “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”

And I was crushed.

It’s not that “Aquatic” is a bad movie; in fact I’m sure it was better than 90 percent of anything I saw that year. In retrospect, it would have been better if “Aquatic” just stank; I could write that off as just the grand misfire of a genius and move on. No, what was wrong with Anderson’s fourth film was much worse.

It was derivative.

All the elements were in place, but if the first three films were magic (and they were), “Aquatic” seemed the work of a wizard who’d lost his spell book and, working from memory, could only conjure up a pale simulacrum, the formerly effortless harmony of elements suddenly strained and imitative. It was like when I was a kid and one day realized that the rest of the league had figured out that Jim Rice had a hole in his swing, turning my invincible idol into a .260-batting double-play machine.

So when Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited” came out a few years later, I hemmed and hawed and made excuses not to see it, friends’ equivocal responses to my secretly desperate “How was it?” filling me with a queasy dread.

I still haven’t seen it. (I did watch his slyly charming animated “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” though, its oddball genre-shift giving me an exemption — hey, they’re my weird rules.)

And now, with Anderson’s newest film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” opening tomorrow, I find that old anxiety resurfacing. I need the people I look up to not to succumb to an inevitable decline. I need my heroes to stay brilliant and strong. I need, you may be saying, to stop taking movies so seriously.

That may be, of course, but if you see a guy wearing a Red Sox shirt pacing outside the Nick box office tomorrow with a look of anguished indecision on his face, well, just leave him be.

Just another film geek wrestling with his soul. 

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.




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