Bottle Rocket Motel: Telling a Story through an Environment

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Wes Anderson’s 1996 feature film Bottle Rocket not only functions as his directorial debut but is also responsible for launching the careers of both Owen and Luke Wilson. The kitschy crime-comedy film has been well regarded over the years for symbolizing a prologue of sorts for what would become Wes Anderson’s signature theatrical style of filmmaking. From botched heists to unlikely love stories, the film is rife with enough classic thematic hooks that it’s pretty clear why the film has been released as part of The Criterion Collection as well as having been cited as one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite films from the 1990’s. However, playing true to my own interests, what I think is worth exploring in Bottle Rocket is the motel that acts as playground for Anderson and the Wilson brothers. Filmed at The Windmill Inn in Hillsboro, Texas, the Bottle Rocket motel is visible for roughly half of the film: it is in this environment that we can see a mirror of the central ideas that Wes Anderson appears to be exploring. So, let’s get started!



After their debatably successful heist robbing a bookstore, the trio of best friends decide to hole up at an out-of-the-way motel to wait until the heat dies down. It is at this seemingly innocuous motel that the majority of the film’s character development and more subtle story telling takes place. The motel is located in the middle of nowhere and due to this isolation, the characters are able to achieve there much desired sense of respite and safety. Although short of spectacle, the motel is still quite visually interesting: it is long and low, surrounded by large marshy fields, with a pleasant swimming pool situated at its centre. Beyond it we are able to see signs that dot the highway and distant power lines. This profound sense of remoteness provided by the structure is integral for Wes Anderson’s protagonists. The whole film sees them attempting to forcefully proscribe meaning to their mundane lives, being distracted by the wealth that surrounds them they turn to a life of crime. However, when faced with the blank canvas of the Bottle Rocket motel, they are forced to stare into the mirror and figure out what it is they might actually need and not simply desire.



Which leads me to my next point: that it is because of the self-reflexive attitude achieved through the motel that one of the protagonists, Anthony (Luke Wilson), is able to develop a relationship with the South American housekeeper, Inez (Lumi Cavazos). This is a significant because more than any other character in the film, Anthony embodies this overarching theme of aimlessness. At the beginning of the film he is leaving a psychiatric hospital that he had previously checked himself into due to exhaustion, and up until his budding romance with Inez, Anthony is only driven to any action by his loyalty to Dignan (Owen Wilson). He does not seem particular enthused by the prospect of organizing a crime ring, but as far as he is concerned there’s not necessarily anything better he could be doing with his time. But given the right circumstances – namely, his being driven to a mental and emotional block thanks to (a) his prior exhaustion and (b) the new transition to wanted criminal – Anthony can become anew. This is where the motif of the Bottle Rocket motel hits its stride and it is transformed into a playground for the lovers. This transition is exemplified through the excitingly vibrant pink cement floor; the warmth emanating from the earth-tone walls; and the innocence embedded in the soft white linens that Inez must change daily.

Although the now-famous Windmill Inn in Hillsboro, Texas does not exist anymore (it is now a Days Inn), its memory shall live on eternally through Wes Anderson’s directorial debut. It’s simple décor and timeless design make it a truly memorable film location that certainly inspired one or two a traveler (but hopefully not too many thieves) to take to the highways and seek out their own version of the Bottle Rocket motel to find sanctity. Anderson and the Wilsons alike managed to do a wonderful job in actuating the feelings of self-reflection and personal growth through the filmic process, albeit in a comical, roundabout sort of way. Although running away from one’s problems isn’t always the healthiest of solutions, giving oneself a bit of distance can sometimes polarize issues in a really helpful way.

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