By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , /

“Well, it’s nice
to see you, too.” Margot Tenenbaum is
a closely guarded secret. “Gentlemen…how much
do you already know?” “Very little, I’m afraid.” Her thoughts and feelings,
and her entire life, are a mystery, even to
her nearest and dearest. “I never understood
her myself.” Yet in another way,
Margot wears her inner life on her sleeve —
she loudly expresses herself through her style. It’s fitting that the Margot
Tenenbaum look remains iconic nearly two decades
after The Royal Tenenbaums’ release. She demonstrates how
storytellers can express character through
aspects of physicality, like costume, makeup
and symbolic objects. Director Wes Anderson
had a crystal clear idea of Margot’s appearance
from the very beginning. “And he said, ‘You
know your hair is gonna look like this
and you’re wearing this kind of eyeliner
and you’re gonna be wearing an Izod tennis
dress with the fur coat’” So it’s as if this character
was partially conceived through her
sartorial choices. Here’s our take on how
Margot’s look speaks for her, and what
it has to say. This video is brought
to you by MUBI, a curated streaming service
showing exceptional films from around the globe. It’s like your own
personal film festival, streaming anytime,
anywhere. Each of the disparate parts
of Margot’s look expresses some aspect of who she is, so let’s unpack each item
to undress the woman underneath. Her preppy polo dresses and
Hermès Bergen bag reflect the prestige and wealth
of the Tenenbaum family. Royal Tenenbaums’
costume designer, Karen Patch, even said
the bag “could have been [Margot’s] mother’s” The Birkin bag is
a major status symbol. “The Birkin bag? Really? That’s not even your style.” “No, honey, it’s not
so much the style as what carrying it means.” Her Bass loafers, likewise,
Patch said were “very typical of that time and
the country club kind of look.” Patch has said
the contradictions of Margot’s style are what
make it so compelling. In her words, “She was dressed in
conservative pieces, but she was rebellious as
a person: she never smiled; she wore heavy makeup;
she chain-smoked; she was sexually
promiscuous. I think those contradictions—
the fact that she was wearing what looked like her
mother’s clothes, or something kind of
country-club conservative— made her edgy.” Margot’s little-girl
barrettes, her delicate pink gloves, and
the fact that she’s still wearing
all these posh items from
her early years — reflect the inner child
who’s never grown up. Perhaps the most striking
thing about Margot’s style is that it’s fixed — her look
stays exactly the same over the decades. On the one hand,
as Patch noted, this indicates she “knows who she is at
a pretty young age.” On the other hand,
her unchanging style represents her
arrested development. The joke about
the Tenenbaum kids is that they’re
little adults. But paradoxically, these
mini-grown-ups have aged into adults who
are stuck in childhood. “Dad.” “Thank you,
my sweet boy.” In part, their arrested
development stems from their
precociousness. “He started buying
real estate in his early teens and seemed
to have an almost preternatural understanding
of international finance.” Margot doesn’t want to
move beyond her childhood because it was
the apex of her achievement. “She was a playwright, and
won a Braverman Grant of $50,000 in the ninth grade.” To her, growing up
means becoming less brilliant and
exceptional. The other source of their
perpetual childhood is the scarring behavior
of their cold father, Royal. “Was it our fault?” “No, no. Obviously,
we made certain sacrifices as a result
of having children, but, uh, no. Lord, no.” A trauma may lead
to feeling frozen in the psychological
stage you were at when the disturbing
event occurred. “This is my adopted daughter,
Margot Tenenbaum.” For Margot, the wound
that’s never healed is her father’s rejection
of her as both a daughter and a playwright. “What’d you think, Dad?” “Mmm… didn’t seem
believable to me.” Next, the blunt bob echoes
Margot’s blunt tongue and uncompromising nature. “You think I’m especially
not a genius?” “Well, I just don’t use
that word lightly.” This hairstyle is
associated with female rebellion and
emancipation, as in the 1920s, women
started wearing shorter hair that went
against gender norms. “Granny, what
do you think?” “Oh, it is you. I thought it was a man wearing
your clothes.” Then, of course,
there’s that eyeliner, which signals Margot’s
melancholic outlook. If the eyes are the
windows to the soul, lining those windows
with heavy darkness announces a storm
raging inside. “I think he’s been
very depressed.” “So am I.” “So are you,
what?” These raccoon eyes
embody teen angst. “I think she was slightly
me as a teenager, a little bit disaffected
but a lot more, a lot more damaged than
I was, I think.” Many can immediately
relate to Margot, because they see
their own blues and ennui reflected
on her face. Yet she brings a
glamour to this attitude. Margot makes melancholy
and moodiness look cool— just as there’s something
haunting about her tragic view of life. “I think we’re just going
to have to be secretly in love with each other
and leave it at that, Richie.” Margot’s eyeliner
evokes the allure of a classic movie star. In the age of silent films,
actresses often wore heavy eyeliner to
accentuate their facial expressions
onscreen. 60s ‘It girls’ also went
for this dramatic eye. And something about
Margot belongs to that 60s and 70s era, just
like her soundtrack. [Music playing] The Fur Coat is quintessential
Margot, and encapsulates her contradictory nature. It’s out-of-date and
incorrect to wear fur, yet on Margot the old-world
garment takes on a punk edge. Again, it gives the feel
like she’s been rummaging around in the family
closet, and nothing puts the “Royal” in Royal
Tenenbaums like fur. Most of all, this vintage
look captures the film’s romantic view of the past. [Singing] “These days I
seem to think a lot about the things
that I forgot to do.” One of its major influences
is The Magnificent Ambersons— Orson Welles’ film about
a special family’s decline. “The magnificence of the
Ambersons began in 1873.” Anderson alludes to
The Magnificent Ambersons’ title by using his patriarch’s
first name to describe the Tenenbaum
family as “royal.” The Royal Tenenbaums
is about a wistfulness for a bygone era when
the Tenenbaum family was still great and
the children were still prodigies. “In fact, virtually all
memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbaums
had been erased by two decades of betrayal,
failure, and disaster.” Patch has said that
Margot’s coat was inspired by the 1960s film
The World of Henry Orient, where a schoolgirl named
Valerie wears a fur coat as she explores
New York City. Young Margot and
Richie’s camping out in the public archives “They shared
a sleeping bag and survived on
crackers and root beer.” comes from the novel From the Mixed-Up Files
of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, about a brother and sister
who run away and live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then we have what’s hidden
inside the coat pockets— Margot’s cigarettes. “She smokes?” “Yes.” This pack of smokes
symbolizes the secrecy at the heart of who she is. “None of the Tenenbaums
knew she was a smoker, which she had been
since the age of 12. Nor were they aware of
her first marriage and divorce to a recording
artist in Jamaica. She kept a private studio
in Mockingbird Heights under the name
‘Helen Scott’” These days it can feel like
the whole purpose of having experiences is to share
them with the world, “Pics or it didn’t happen.” but Margot’s
unknowability is what makes her
so entrancing to viewers. While Margot is private
about every aspect of her life, her cigarettes specifically
represent how she hides her suffering. “Your brother’s
all torn up inside.” “Well, so am I, but I’m not
going to discuss it with you.” Her brother Richie’s
depression is out in the open, but Margot’s lifelong
chain smoking is a private form
of slow suicide. “How long have
you been a smoker?” “22 years.” “Well, I think
you should quit.” Margot’s smoking is
a textbook example of sublimation— a defense
mechanism that redirects a negative or inappropriate
impulse into a more socially acceptable outlet. Specifically, smoking
is a way of sublimating her attraction to
her adopted brother. Cigarettes are phallic objects,
onscreen depictions of smoking can treat it as an almost
sexual compulsion, [Inhales] “Oh my God.” [Laughter] and in our modern world
this habit is often considered
a shameful vice, “Listen, don’t give me
a problem about the cigarettes—“ “Such a filthy habit just as Margot’s
incestuous love for Richie could be
considered dirty or sinful. “You’re in love with Richie
which is sick and gross.” The connection between
Margot’s smoking and her feelings for Richie
is exposed in the graveyard scene, where she subtly
reveals that she knows he’s in love with her. “By the way, I heard about
that letter you sent to Eli.” “You dropped
some cigarettes.” “Those aren’t mine.” “They just fell out
of your pocket.” Her firm disavowal
of the cigarettes, right after she’s raised
the issue of Richie’s romantic interest in her,
contains the subtext of denying her love
for her brother. Yet here she can’t
get away with saying the cigarettes aren’t hers,
and her illicit feelings can’t stay hidden forever. After Margot and Richie
finally admit their love, Margot tries to quit smoking, “What are you chewing on?” “My nicotine inhaler.” “It’s supposed
to help me quit.” symbolizing that she’s
ready to at least try to leave behind her
self-destructive suffering. “Is it working?” “Not really.” Underneath the childish
or conservative items, Margot is wearing a slip. This piece of her look
represents her alluring, sexual side. And throughout the film,
she’s like a siren bewitching all the men around her. “I can’t stop
thinking about you. I went away for a year,
and it only got worse and I don’t know
what to do.” A big part of Margot’s
identity boils down to—-daddy issues. Psychology professor,
Linda Neilsen says, “Women who grow up with
meaningful, comfortable, conversational relationships
with their dads make better choices in who they date,
sleep with, and marry.” On some level,
all of Margot’s relationships are a way
of seeking the validation she never got
from her father. Yet she also imitates
the toxic behavior she learned from
this bad role model. “Maybe, uh, I wasn’t
as true to her as I could’ve been.” “You’ve made
a cuckold of me.” “I know.” “Many times over.” She rejects love when
it’s offered to her, just as her father
rejected her love. “You need to eat something. May I make you dinner?” “No, thank you.” He constantly reminds
her that she’s not a “real” Tenenbaum. “Well, she wasn’t your
real grandmother and I never knew how much
interest you had, sweetie.” So her incestuous
feelings for Richie could spring from
a need to be loved by another
Tenenbaum male, or even a subconscious
desire to procreate with a Tenenbaum to have
“real” Tenenbaum children. Margot’s much older
husband, Raleigh, is a stand-in for Royal. This is underscored
by their similar names and Royal’s sense
of kinship and protectiveness
towards the man. “I don’t like the way
you’re treating Raleigh.” “What are you talking about? You don’t even know him.” “Well, I’ve met him, and
I don’t think he deserves—” “Stay out of it.” Margot’s promiscuity
could also be a way of displacing the love
she feels for Richie. Since she can’t pursue
her attraction to him, she projects her sexual
feelings onto others, as underlined when
she explains why she had an affair
with Eli Cash. “Anyway, we mostly
just talked about you.” “You did?” “Yeah. I guess that
was the attraction, if you know
what I mean.” After Richie learns
about Margot’s past, he cuts off his
hair and beard. This is an interesting
spin on the Bible’s Samson and Delilah. Delilah has Samson’s hair
cut to take away his strength, whereas here Richie hurts
himself because he’s torn apart by the revelation
of Margot’s sexual history. “I heard about your
ex-husband.” “Desmond?” “I guess so. I didn’t
get his name.” So as a siren-like figure,
Margot seems to unintentionally put
a spell on men, almost driving
them to their deaths. “Why’d you do it? Because of me?” “Yeah, but it’s
not your fault.” Finally, we have
the Missing Piece. Margot’s missing finger
symbolizes her feeling of being incomplete
or not belonging. “Four years later
Margot disappeared alone for two weeks
and came back with half a finger missing.” In her play, Margot’s
zebra costume has bullet holes
and blood on it communicating how she
feels wounded by Royal. “Well, did you at least
think the characters were well-developed?” “What characters? This is a bunch of little kids dressed up
in animal costumes.” “Good night, everyone.” Her wound is made
physical when she runs away to visit her
biological family, and one of her relatives,
presumably her father, chops off her finger. So the lost finger reminds
her of her inability to fully fit in anywhere. And her prosthetic finger
is made of wood, recalling the circumstances
of her failed search. The ice cream parlor scene,
where all the tables are occupied by fathers
and daughters, “You probably don’t even
know my middle name.” “That’s a trick question. You don’t have one.” “Helen.” underlines that Margot
won’t ever heal from Royal’s failure to love
her, just as her finger will never grow back. “Can’t somebody be
a shit their whole life and try to repair
the damage?” As an adult, though,
Margot turns Royal’s rejection around
and disavows him. “He’s not your father.” “Neither are you.” She seems to accept her
painful loss as a part of her, “Did you try to
sew it back on?” “Wasn’t worth it.” just as she eventually
takes ownership of being an adopted Tenenbaum. “I’m adopted, did
you know that? Well I am.” There’s something punk rock
about her missing finger— it’s like a battle scar
and what’s given her the most pain,
may be the key to her potential
happiness. The fact that she’s adopted
means that she and Richie could ultimately be together,
if they decide to be. “It’s probably illegal.” “I don’t think so. We’re
not related by blood.” “That’s true. Still
frowned upon. But then, what isn’t
these days, right?” All of her pieces may not
seem to “go together,” but that’s the beauty —
they add up to the enigmatic person that is Margot,
just as we ourselves are made up of
many mismatched, incongruous parts. So instead of trying
to recreate Margot’s specific outfits, to follow
in her shoes and craft a truly memorable style
we should dream up our own unique ensembles. Whether it’s a favorite
color you identify with, the right pair of shades,
a love for bling, throwing out gender norms,
keeping it minimal, those shoes that
remind you of home, or the jacket that makes
you feel like a rebel, how you present yourself
should express you. Embrace the nuances
and contradictions of your full, complex self. As Margot proves,
individuality never goes out of style. “Margot Tenenbaum?” “Yeah.” “Well, since when?” “Since always.” This video is brought
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