This paper attempts to perceive the Tenenbaum family through interactions with each family member and describe the reasons for certain behaviors using patterns observed in research studies conducted on families. It theorizes that the family dysfunction present in the Tenenbaum family originates from Royal Tenenbaum’s absence and his wife’s pressure on her children to become intellectual geniuses and talented individuals.
The occurrence of these factors causes the adult Tenenbaum children to become stagnated in childlike states of mind, unable to cope with their emotions. First, the paper notes the family systems theory created by Murray Bowen. This theory is used to focus on the interlocking relationships between the family rather than individual characteristics. This allows the family to be described in terms of association with each family member.
Royal Tenenbaum’s separation from his family is described as a cause for his children’s sense of abandonment and loss of self-esteem. Etheline Tenenbaum furthers the blow by being overbearing on her children’s future success instead of giving them time to be youthful. As a response to their parent’s treatments, the children fail to learn to live independently and are forced to move back home to learn how. Triangling between Margot and Richie Tenenbaum occurs as a method to reduce the tension between their relationship. Finally, Royal Tenenbaum plays a role in reversing the dysfunction of the family, proving that he had been the cause of the discord.
Wes Anderson is a modern day filmmaker whose movies often observe interactions in dysfunctional family units. In Anderson’s film The Royal Tenenbaums, the source of family dysfunction derives from the absence of Royal Tenenbaum and Etheline Tenenbaum’s push on their children to succeed, leading to a childlike state in adulthood and the inability to cope with emotions. Through the family systems theory proposed by Murray Bowen and other research studies on separated parents, the behavior patterns witnessed in the Tenenbaum children are described as being a natural reaction. Finally, as a way to depict how Royal caused the dysfunction, Anderson reverses it through the change and growth of Royal’s character, revealing that the parents are the support system for the family; when they fail to fill their role, it causes the children to have psychological problems.
The Tenenbaum family resides in a five-story house in Manhattan. The household is made up of Royal Tenenbaum, the father, Etheline Tenenbaum, the mother, and their children Chas Tenenbaum, Richie Tenenbaum, and adopted daughter Margot Tenenbaum. According to Murray Bowen, the family must be viewed as a unit or “a network of interlocking relationships”? (Kerr and Bowen p. ix). If a family was observed as individuals in a household, then the observations would only serve its purpose as a study of an individual person.
By categorizing a family as a network, the interactions within the family can be described in relativity to the other family members. “The thoughts, feelings, and behavior of each family member both contributes to and reflects what is occurring in the family as a whole ? (Kerr and Bowen 166). For example, when Chas moves back home, Margot hears of it and decides that she too will move back into her childhood home even though she is married. At this same time, Richie returns from his travels.
This behavior of moving back into their mother’s home reveals that the family is dependent on each other to the point where they cannot operate independently. “There is a strong relationship between the transfer of general and emotional help and close proximity between adult children and their mothers ? (Compton and Pollack). The children rely on their old home as a place where they exhibit their talents. Before moving back home, Margot had fallen into a depressive state whereas she locked herself in the bathroom and refused to see anyone.
She stopped writing her acclaimed plays. Yet by the end of the film, she has begun to write again. The same happens to Chas; following the death of his wife in a tragic plane crash, Chas has been living in a frustrated and panicked state of mind that he carries on to his two young sons, Ari and Uzi, forcing them to go through evacuation drills of their house and daily fitness exercises. By moving back home, Chas learns to let go and live. Richie also experiences the importance of family and setting when he learns to voice his feelings. The dysfunction existed in the family because the members influenced each other in negative ways.
“The children have to learn to be independent, something they never really achieve” (Browning 41). Since the dysfunction left them unable to live independently outside of their childhood home, they must go back in order to learn and receive the emotional support that a functioning family provides. This proposes that “they never really left home,” (Browning 42) mentally or emotionally. The problem for the Tenenbaum family is rooted in the lack of presence of the father figure and the overbearing push for accomplishments from their mother. Royal Tenenbaum separated from Etheline when the children were in their preteens. The children exhibit pain and confusion through the separation; for example, Richie asks if they were the cause of the problem, to which Royal replies “No, no! Obviously we’ve made certain sacrifices as a result of having children, but, uh, Lord no! This exchange of dialogue between father and children becomes the origin of the issues the family experiences.
Royal’s response lacks confidence. This causes the children to believe that they are the root of the problem and the reason their parents are separating. From this moment, Royal is seen as an outsider to the family. “During this period of identity development, the adolescent is preoccupied with what he or she appears to be in the eyes of others”? (Denney and Martin). The only child Royal shows favor to is Richie because he earns money through the bets he places on Richie’s tennis tournaments. Richie has the best relationship with his father, but even then, it is not a relationship based on emotional and psychological support.
Richie lacks the ability to express himself for fear that he may upset the situation, a belief that arose from guilt regarding Royal and Etheline’s separation. Royal refers to Margot as his “adopted daughter which leads to her feeling like an outsider to her family. Her identity relies on what Royal viewed her as. Chas has the hardest time with his father. He struggles with the fact that Royal and ichie go out in the city together. Making it more difficult for him is the time when Royal shot Chas in the hand with a B.
B. gun. Bitter against his father, when he learns that Royal had been removing money from his bank account he sues his father. Royal ends up spending time in prison.
This behavior conveys that Chas is still bitter that his father separated from his mother. The Tenenbaum children all display “feelings of abandonment, loss of self-esteem, and a sense of alienation”? (Denney and Martin) caused by Royal. The effect of Royal’s absence from his children is juxtaposed through his presence in Ari and Uzi’s life. Royal takes them out in the city and teaches them how to break rules. The boys learn how to live by risking themselves, something that the Tenenbaum children never had a chance to learn. Royal also causes Etheline to become hyper obsessive with her children’s upbringing as “geniuses.
? The introduction of Etheline Tenenbaum in the beginning of the film shows her seated at the telephone surrounded by her children while she sets up their schedules and signs a check for Chas. She wears red-tinted sunglasses suggesting that she and Royal share an eccentric personality. Etheline Tenenbaum focuses her life around her children’s education and the development of their talents. However, “the father’s lack of involvement contributed to the mother’s over involvement ? (Nichols 327). Etheline reacted to Royal’s absence by trying to make up his presence and also by attempting to raise her children successfully to prove herself to him.
It is suggested that Etheline wanted to separate from Royal because he did not display appreciation for her. To gain his recognition, Etheline raises her children to be intellectual geniuses and talented individuals. Chas finds success buying and selling stocks in his teens and also invents a genetically mutated Dalmatian mouse that he sells to Japanese pet stores. Margot becomes an acclaimed playwright by the ninth grade.
Richie trains to grow into a tennis world champion and gains celebrity status. Etheline’s focus on her children’s education and talents though keeps Chas, Margot, and Richie from developing socially; the only friend the children has is next-door neighbor Eli Cash. Her style of upbringing keeps them emotionally trapped inside their childhood and dependent on her for support. With their father’s absence and their mother’s failure to prepare them for the world outside their home, the Tenenbaum children have become caught in their childhood state of minds. “The Tenenbaum children have hit a spiritual buffer in which they shy away from the compromises and hypocrisies of adult life”? (Browning 36).
They have become depressed and live in constant states of extreme emotional suppression. Margot locks herself in her bathroom to keep herself from facing her husband. Chas holds evacuation drills for his children and lives in terror of accidents. Richie tragically dreams of sharing his feelings of love to Margot but does not know how to approach the situation.
The children have tried “a range of displacement tactics to avoid engaging with the reality of life “marriage, sex, and smoking (Margot); tennis and travel (Richie); business, routine, and expressions of anger (Chas) ? (Browning 38) but none of their behaviors has been appropriate for their situations or maturity. “Young adult children sometimes revert emotionally to a younger stage when they have to face the changes in the family structure [such as the separation of Royal from the family]. They are in the process of exploring their own independence, and are still leaning on the foundation of family stability” (Alexander). However, the problem existing in the Tenenbaum family is that there is no family stability, which explains why the children are emotionally unstable. The anxiety existing among the children, notably between Margot and Richie, causes them to begin to adapt displacement methods to their relationships with each other. Richie and Margot turn to a process referred to as triangling in order to relieve the tension that exists between them.
Both Margot and Richie have feelings for each other, but both fail to recognize their feelings and share them with the other. Margot has displayed an inability to tell the truth since she was a young girl; none of her family members knows that she smokes or know anything about her first marriage. This occurs because of Royal’s reference to her as “the adopted daughter. ? Richie also keeps his emotions and feelings to himself. Instead of speaking to Margot when they live under the same roof, he chooses to read her plays, determining this action as a way to learn more about her.
When anxiety increases, a third person becomes involved in the tension of the twosome, creating a triangle. This involvement of a third person decreases anxiety in the twosome by spreading it through three relationships ? (Kerr and Bowen Kindle Locations 1796-1797). Margot and Richie introduce old friend Eli Cash into their relationships as a way to decrease the frustration between their relationship. Richie confides his true feelings to Eli and Eli becomes Margot’s lover. However, Eli plays his role as the middleman and tells the other their true feelings.
In Kerr and Bowen’s description of triangles, the Margot/Richie/Eli triangle follows a pattern of anxiety shift (Kindle Location 1834). Richie becomes frustrated with Eli because of his drug use and his incapability to keep Richie’s secrets safe. Margot realizes that she does not love Eli and tells him, to which he replies that he did not love her either, and that Richie had had feelings for her since they were young. The outsider to the triangle then becomes Eli, and the tension between Richie and Margot decreases, thus allowing them to confront one another. Margot and Richie decide however to not pursue each other because their relationship would be frowned upon by society as incest. At the same time Margot and Richie solve their tension, Royal Tenenbaum is realizing the role he played in creating the deep-rooted problems of the family.
By residing in the household, Royal is able to cancel out his children’s negative characteristics by balancing them against his opposite traits. According to Bowen’s studies, “One frequently observed pattern was that family members functioned in reciprocal relationship to one another” (Kindle Location 139). Royal offsets Chas’ strict adherence to rules through his rule-breaking, Richie’s failure to say what he feels to sharing his thoughts regarding everyone and everything, and Margot’s quiet nature to his loud personality seen in his clothing and command of attention. Royal understands that it is his fault that his children do not know how to be independent.
The children never had someone to listen to their problems when they were young and have pent up guilt for their parent’s separation. He reconciles with his family by paying attention to them and reacting to their dysfunctions. He advises Richie to go after Margot and disregard what society has deemed as unacceptable; he takes time and speaks with Margot, something he had never done when she was young, and learns about her; he explains to Chas that he needs to let his boys live as children so that his children will not harbor the same feelings against Chas as Chas and his siblings now feel against Royal. His final resolution with his family is represented in the presentment of a Dalmatian to Chas, revealing that Royal `did pay attention to his children’s interests, and through the signature of the divorce apers between he and Etheline, displaying that he cares more about her happiness than he does about her belonging to him. At the conclusion of the movie, the family is shown standing around Royal Tenenbaum’s grave.
“The script on the epitaph reads ?Died tragically rescuing his family from the wreckage of a destroyed sinking battleship’ ¦Royal does rescue the family in a way, perhaps not in an act of wartime heroism but in making good the mistakes of his past ? (Browning 50). The Royal Tenenbaums is a film about family dysfunction and the interactions etween family members that caused the family dynamics. Royal and Etheline Tenenbaum cause the emotional instability present in the children through lack of presence and over controlling the outcome of their young lives. The origination of the problem suggests that parents are the emotional and psychological support for the family. If the support is unable to maintain its duty, then the structure will collapse, as seen in the Tenenbaum family. It is through the restoration of parental figures that the Tenenbaum children learn how to live independently.
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