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"I think we lost Buckley"

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"Dad, they ran over Buckley!"
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Released in late 2001, shortly after the attacks of 9/11, and filmed in and around New York City earlier in 2001, Wes Anderson’s comedic drama The Royal Tenenbaums is considered one of his best films, right behind 1998’s Rushmore.

I saw it in early 2002, when it had a wide release. I didn’t quite like it at first but it grew on me fairly quickly, much like Rushmore did a few years earlier.

With The Royal Tenenbaums, actor Gene Hackman who plays scheming patriarch Royal Tenenbaum, would have one of his final screen performances before ultimately retiring from film. In the film he has little use for Tenenbaum children family friend and hanger-on Eli Cash (Owen Wilson).

Eli Cash comes careening down the hill in a circa-1966 Austin-Healey 3000, his face painted like some Aztec warrior. Heading right for the brownstone where Etheline Tenenbaum – the family matriarch – and Henry Sherman are about to be married, he crashes the car into a mailbox and runs over the beloved family dog, Buckley, killing it and narrowly missing Chas Tenenbaum’s sons Ari and Uzi.

“Dad, they ran over Buckley,” says Ari to his neurotic father Chas.

“What?” says Chas excitedly.

“I think we lost Buckley,” Royal Tenenbaum says somewhat matter-of-factly after looking at the damage.

When Chas realizes his sons Ari and Uzi are all right and that Eli nearly killed them by his reckless driving, he chases Eli through the house trying to beat him up. After a wild run through the house and into a neighboring backyard, the two exhausted and troubled men lie on the ground.

“Did I hit the dog?” asks Eli.

“Yeah,” says Chas, looking straight ahead.

“Is he dead?” Eli asks.

“Yeah,” replies Chas.

Looking up, Eli says, “I need help.”

“So do I,” agrees Chas.

 A little later Etheline walks out to find Ari and Uzi standing by the wrecked Austin-Healey, holding onto Buckley’s leash.

“You boys come up here with me,” she says.

“But Buckley’s still under there,” Ari says, mournfully.

Looking under the car, she replies, “I know, but there’s nothing we can do for him at the moment.”

Indeed. Nothing. Buckley  is dead. Time to move on. And syncing with events of that doomed year, 2001, the Metropolitan (read: FDNY) firefighters who answer the call to Eli’s accident willingly sell their Dalmatian “Sparkplug” to Royal to give to the boys and his son Chas as a replacement.

“I’ve had a rough year, Dad,” Chas finally confesses to Royal, a man who has not been a great father to him, his brother and sister and mother.

And this morning, while noting a sync song “Song to the Siren” by the late Tim Buckley, I thought back to a March 2011 post I titled “Synchromysticism and Obama’s ‘Odyssey Dawn’” after a FB friend noted the car-crash death of actor Paul Walker (which oddly synced with the car-crash death of Family Guy dog Brian Griffin).

A the time I wrote: “I was on Facebook an hour or so ago and amazingly saw a Facebook friend had posted a video link to the late folk singer Tim Buckley performing his haunting song “Song to the Siren” on a 1968 episode of The Monkees. It is one of my favorite scenes to have ever taken place on that beloved program.

As the Wikipedia entry about "Song to the Siren" notes: “The song’s reference to the siren tempting sailors at sea stems from Greek mythology, notably used in Homer’s epic Odyssey. The siren is a mythical half-woman, half-fish creature which uses its beautiful voice to distract seamen and scupper their ships.

Sings Tim Buckley: “I am puzzled as the newborn child / I am troubled at the tide / Should I stand amid the breakers? / Should I lie with death, my bride?

It’s a song that stays with you. And it asks some serious questions. As for Tim Buckley, he would tragically die of a heroin overdose in 1975. His son, singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley would die by drowning in the Mississippi River at Memphis, Tennessee in 1997. He was reportedly singing Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” when he was last seen. That same year, Atlantic Records released “Whole Lotta Love” as a single in the UK, peaking at number 21.

With 9/11, America, I believe, is still in shock. Like Ben Stiller’s character Chas we are trying to be stoic and above-it-all and looking out at the world with “steely blue eyes with no love in them,” as Morrissey sings in “America is Not the World.” But with Buckley the dog’s death, Chas breaks down, realizing he has heart and soul and a need to be understood and comforted by his father. He’s confused and lost and only wanting to protect his children after the death of his wife. It really wasn't until a year after 9/11, with the assassination death of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, that I really let my feelings out. The anger, frustration and sadness. It was a cathartic experience. 

A perhaps unintentionally bittersweet film, The Royal Tenenbaums would be one of the last major films to be filmed in pre-9/11 New York City. Upon release a few months after the attacks, the wound on America was still fresh and raw. The innocence was gone and New York – and America – would never be the same.


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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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