This rambunctious film takes family drama into fresh and hilarious new territory. It revolves around a prankster father who wants to reconnect with his grown children and former wife. Royal Tenenbaum is an irrepressible and irresponsible fellow whose imaginative attempts to make amends for the past are commendable.
"The most powerful ties are the ones to the people who gave us birth,” Anthony Brandt has written. "It hardly seems to matter how many years have passed, how many tragedies there may have been, how much misery in the family; we remain connected, even against our wills." These connections, even though they may be frayed, are at the heart and soul of this comedy directed by Wes Anderson and co-written with Owen Wilson. Watching these wacky characters and their bumbling attempts to move beyond regret and anger into forgiveness and love is a worthwhile experience.
The questions and exercises in this discussion guide look at how our spirituality informs such themes as family, genius, parenthood, play, regret, forgiveness, and love.
The Royal Tenenbaums runs 106 minutes and is rated R for some language, sexuality, and disturbing /uploads/features/images. For our review of the film and a plot synopsis, click here.
"I think the family is the place where the most ridiculous and the least respectable things in the world go on," Ugu Betti writes in The Inquiry.
- What are the most ridiculous and the least respectable things about the Tenenbaum family? Who is your favorite character? your least favorite character?
- Think back over your family and recall the most ridiculous incident and something you wanted to hide from others because it wasn't respectable. What spiritual practices have enabled you to live with these indiscretions and lapses in your family history?
The great thinker and inventor Buckminster Fuller once quipped: "Everyone is born a genius but the process of living de-geniuses them."
- What are some of the genuinely amazing accomplishments of the Tenenbaum children? What developments have brought them down or, as Fuller says, de-geniused them?
- Have you known people who peaked very early in their lives or careers? What happened to them? What spiritual practices teach resiliency in the face of setbacks?
"Parenthood," Alvin Toffler writes in Future Shock, "remains the greatest single preserve of the amateur."
- What are some of the things Royal's children hold against him? Do you see any of his character qualities in them? Which qualities are in which children?
- Talk about some of the spiritual qualities that go into making a good parent.
"Play is as essential to the aged as it is to the young. I count that day lost when I am not moved to tears or laughter, but even more if I have not played," George Sheehan writes in Going the Distance.
- What is your response to the way Chas treats his two sons? What is your favorite scene in the movie involving Royal and the two young boys?
- Share your feelings about the role of play in your life. Do you agree with Sheehan about its importance? Why or why not?
"Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back," writer Katherine Mansfield once observed. "Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can't build on it; it's only good for wallowing in."
- Which of the characters seems most mired in regret?
- Think about the ways in which your spirituality has enabled you to move beyond this prison. Share your feelings.
Best-selling author Gerald Jampolsky has noted: "The unforgiving mind sees itself as innocent and others as guilty. It thrives on conflict and on being right, and it sees inner peace as its enemy. It perceives everything as separate."
- What new insights does this film give you into the roadblocks to forgiveness in the family context?
- How do you deal with your unforgiving mind? What spiritual practices are helpful?
The artist Vincent Van Gogh once stated: "I tell you, the more I think the more I feel that there is nothing more artistic than to love people."
- What artistic ways does Royal use to express his love for his family? Share your reactions to the end of the film.
- What artistic or creative ways have you found to affirm your love to family members?
This guide is one in a series of more than 200 Values & Visions Guides written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Text copyright 2001 by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Photos courtesy of Touchstone Pictures. This guide is posted as a service to visitors to www.SpiritualityandPractice.com. It may not be photocopied, reprinted, or distributed electronically without permission from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat except it may be duplicated for use by groups participating in the e-course "Going to the Movies as a Spiritual Practice." For other uses and for a list of guides in the Values & Visions series and ordering information, email your name and mailing address to: email@example.com.