Water, in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, signifies a freedom from spiritual malaise.  For instance, in the scene where Bill Murray dives into a pool at his twin sons’ birthday party, he stays underwater, as if to escape the world outside.  All the worldly noises drown out, except for the Kinks’ “Nothing in This World Can Stop Me Worrying ‘Bout That Girl” on the soundtrack.  This, of course, mirrors Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, where Dustin Hoffman, having grown disillusioned with his affair with Mrs. Robinson, also takes a dive into a swimming pool.

Perhaps, as he’s swimming, Benjamin Braddock blocks out the word plastics.  Herman Blume, while submerged, ignores the demands of steel.  Underwater, Houston no longer thinks about oil.

Anderson filmed most of Rushmore in Houston:  the private school scenes at his alma mater, St. John’s; the public school scenes at Lamar High School.  But the movie as a whole is steeped in Houston:  Herman Blume’s neighborhood could easily be River Oaks; Miss Cross’ more modest house looks as though it’s in the Heights; and one could imagine Max Fischer living in the Third Ward, where the streets are lined with billboards that announce We Buy Ugly Houses.

No one neighborhood represents Houston.  The city emanates outward, in ever-widening concentric circles:  the Inner Loop, the Sam Houston Parkway, the Grand Parkway.  Houston is a target without a bull’s-eye.  Downtown, on the weekends, becomes awash with young urbanites, eager to impress their peers with a free-flowing flood of cash.

But, once in a while, the city holds its breath.

When Tropical Storm Allison stalled over Houston in June of 2001, almost 40 inches of rain dropped over six days.  In Montrose, where I lived, the water rose to my doorway, threatening to enter.  Cars were lifted off their tires and prowled the streets.  Amorphous rainbows of oil stretched their fingers.  Sewers overflowed.

I heard stories:  how balls of fire ants rolled along the surface of the water, how the poisonous snakes from the Bayou shimmied underneath — all the dark and dangerous things of Houston given free rein.  In the metropolitan area along, there were 21 deaths.  One woman, who had worked overnight at the Bank of America building, was told to retrieve her car from the underground garage.  When the building lost power, her elevator car was trapped three levels beneath the surface, where there was no escaping the water.

But as the rain fell, the city seemed to level out.  The drops rapped on everyone’s windows, driven by a howling fury.  Mansion and hovel alike shared the deluge — the occupants of each hunkering beneath the endless grey expanse of sky.

And, for a instant, underneath all the water, the city escaped its anomie.  My downstairs neighbor moved his stereo equipment into our apartment, a moment of connection in an otherwise strained friendship.  Outside, someone did the breast-stroke down Driscoll Street.  Traffic cameras on the Hazard Street overpass showed a kayaker along the Southwest Freeway, paddling, not to escape the water, but to become part of it.

Advertisements