‘Asteroid City’ is Wonderfully Absurd


Still from “Asteroid City” (Courtesy of Focus Features)

By Josi Hinds, Arts Writer


Wes Anderson returns to the big screen with his latest film, “Asteroid City.” This chaotic tale follows a group of travelers who find themselves quarantined in a small desert town after an extraterrestrial encounter. 

The film itself is split between two timelines. One is the story about the creation and production of a play. The second is the story of Asteroid City, which we learn is the play being brought to life in the other timeline. Though “Asteroid City” is certainly not without its flaws, it is a bleak yet humorous exploration of the human experience and reckoning with the known and unknown. 

Not Too Serious …

The entire story takes place over the span of a week. Viewers are thrown into the lives of a grieving family, an elementary school class, a famous actress and a group of cowboys with little of their histories provided. 

We learn about these travelers at the same pace as the other characters do—through their conversations, actions and awkward fumbles. The viewer is occupying the characters’ lives just as temporarily as they are occupying each other’s. The only thing in common between the group is their occupation of the town on Asteroid Day — a weekend-long celebration of the town’s main attraction: a soccer-ball-sized asteroid. 

The movie is full of absolute ridiculousness, from a vending machine that spits out deeds to plots of land to a Tupperware of ashes. “Asteroid City” doesn’t take itself seriously, which is clear in the utter randomness of the whole thing. Absurd dialogue is produced from blank faces, actions are taken with little reason and mysteries are discovered but never solved. 

But Serious Enough

These characters’ lives get turned upside down after collectively watching an alien come down to Earth and steal the asteroid the desert town was named after. Almost immediately, the town spirals.

The United States government calls for a quarantine of the town while they investigate the sighting. This leaves the occupants to sit with the knowledge that they’re not alone in the Universe. Naturally, they begin to question what this means for themselves and their sense of identity.

With this, “Asteroid City” takes a humorous approach to the exploration of purpose as the discovery of extraterrestrial life rocks what the characters once thought was theirs.

The movie asks what it means to know. The weight of knowing what life has been up until this point makes the uncertainty of not knowing the future all the more unsettling. Yet, hanging onto what these characters do know gives them just enough direction to survive their bizarre circumstances. Whether it’s the actress continuing to rehearse for the role she’s been working on, or a group of genius kids using technology they invented to try to contact the alien.

At one point, the actor portraying the widowed father in the play runs off the set, switching us to the play’s production timeline. He storms to the director, demanding to know what the play is about. He feels the heartbreak of this father every night he has to play him, yet not knowing what the play is really about gives him more torment. The director assures him he’s playing his character perfectly and tells him he knows how to play his character. Yet he’s never given a direct answer as to the play’s meaning.

Is it possible to give yourself to something without knowing what it’s for? Do you need to know?

These are questions we don’t know if the actor answered, but he eventually returns to the stage. After he does the town’s quarantine is lifted. The next day, Asteroid City looks as if nothing ever happened to it.


[email protected]