Wes Anderson’s ‘Asteroid City’ (2023) has all the classic Wes Anderson film elements including an ending that will leave you in awe. It features a star-studded cast mastering their deadpan expressions and meticulously designed frames often dictated by their symmetry. The color palette is just as vibrant, and the film’s tone is just as quirky as you would expect from his work. However, this gloomy comedy goes further to reflect upon and examine Anderson’s style through its metatextual plot. Simultaneously, it contemplates the nature of grief and how an artist experiences it.

The film features Anderson regulars like Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Edward Norton, and Willem Dafoe, along with an eclectic cast of Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Maya Hawke, Hope Davis, Live Schreiber, Steve Park, Rupert Friend, and Matt Dillon among others. Anderson wrote and directed the film based on a story that he wrote with Roman Coppola.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Asteroid City (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

What is ‘Asteroid City’ about?

Asteroid City is primarily about the way an artist processes their grief. The film’s plot simultaneously follows three narratives. Firstly, it shows the events from a Youth Astronomy convention in a fictionalized, retro-futuristic version of 1955, where UFOs and extra-terrestrials were sighted. Second is these events being staged as a play, whereas the third one is the creation of this play.

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Anderson’s Asteroid City begins with a TV host (Bryan Cranston) informing some details about a play by a revered playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton). In its first read-through rehearsal, Earp reveals the location and character details. In the play, war photojournalist Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) travels to a fictional desert town called Asteroid City for his precocious son, Woodrow (Jake Ryan), to partake in the Junior Stargazer convention. He drives there with Woodrow and his three younger sisters.

Augie’s Grief

Augie has not told his children about their mother’s passing. Since his car breaks down in this town, he calls his father-in-law, Stanley Zak (Tom Hanks), to pick up the daughters. It becomes clear from their dialogue that Stanley isn’t fond of Augie. Stanley asks his son-in-law to tell his children about their mother’s death. Nevertheless, he agrees to drive to this desolate town. Soon after, other participants start arriving in the town. Among these are a famous actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), and her intellectual daughter, Dinah (Grace Edwards), who is going to be awarded at the convention like Woodrow.

Further visitors include a five-star General Grif Gibson (Jeffrey Wright), astronomer Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton), and three young honorees – Ricky (Ethan Josh Lee), Clifford (Aristou Meehan) and Shelly (Sofia Lillis) along with their parents – J.J. Kellogg (Live Schrieber), Roger Cho (Steve Park), and Sandy Borden (Hope Davis). Besides, June (Maya Hawke) brings a group of elementary-school students for a tour and comes across a cowboy band led by singer Montana (Rupert Friend). They all get accommodations in a local motel with the help of its manager (Steve Carell).

Augie soon tells his children about their mother’s death. While she was an atheist, he allowed them a chance to understand the concept of death and the process of grief according to their ways and beliefs. Augie and Woodrow meet Midge and Dinah in the local diner. Dinah quickly takes a liking to Woodrow. Shortly after, General Gibson gives an impassioned, snappy speech to stress the importance of the inventions of the young scholars. The honourees soon get awarded for their deeper understanding of distinct aspects of scientific study.

The Emotional Bonding

The temporary adult residents indulge in dialogues that reflect upon things like their lack of scientific knowledge and the control the Larkin Foundation has over their land. We get a sense that Midge also hides emotions and pain like Augie does, making her weary of life. Meanwhile, the ‘abnormally intelligent’ students notice Woodrow being shy and reserved. While they invite him to join them for a meal, they notice Clifford jumping down from the roof of a house. Later in the evening, they indulge in memory-driven, stimulating games.

Asteroid City (2023) Movie Ending Explained
A still from Asteroid City (2023)

While June and Montana slowly start falling for each other, Midge and Augie also get involved in each other’s emotional lives. He shows her the photograph he clicked earlier. She offers him a chance to see her rehearse a nude scene. The motel manager shows Montana a machine that he can use to buy plots of land. Stanley sees his granddaughters burying a Tupperware with their mother’s ashes. He resists it thinking his daughter deserves a better farewell than being buried near a desolate motel.

Making of the Play

In behind-the-scenes reportage, we learn that Augie’s character was played by a former carpenter, who was discovered by the play’s director Schubert Green (Adrien Brody). We witness the first meeting between playwright Earp with the carpenter-turned-actor Jones Hall. Their illuminating dialogue about how Augie chooses to process his emotions eventually leads to sharing a deeply intimate moment with each other. We get a glimpse of how others came to partake in this play. The actor who plays Woodrow was actually an understudy. While this actor got this life-changing opportunity, Schubert Green devoted his entire life to the play and started spending all his time on the sets, resulting in losing his relationship with his beloved partner, Polly (Hong Chau).

UFO Appearance

In the play, during the stargazing program, a UFO suddenly appears above the crater in this town. An alien emerges and steals a fragment of the meteorite that created the crater. Augie photographs the alien. Due to the sighting of this extra-terrestrial creature, General Gibson declares a military quarantine where everyone is subjected to medical and psychiatric examinations. Montana helps June keep her students calm in this distressing situation. J.J. learns the reason behind his son’s odd behavior is his craving for acknowledgment of his existence.

Midge opens up to Augie about her troubling history with violent men. Through that, they realize that they both choose not to speak about their catastrophic pain because they don’t want to. Augie and Stanley try to come to terms with how they process grief differently. Meanwhile, the young scholars use Dr. Hickenlooper’s equipment and make an attempt to establish contact with the alien. Ricky manages to get the word out on their quarantine to the outside world, which soon becomes national news. Just when the angry General decides to overthrow his earlier decision, a UFO reappears, and the alien returns the stolen meteorite.

Asteroid City (2023) Movie Ending Explained:

Do the Asteroid City visitors manage to leave?

After the second Alien invasion, the actor Jonah Hill suddenly breaks his character of Augie and returns backstage. He is distressed by the fact that he cannot understand what is happening. He meets Schubert to speak about his conflict. ‘Why keep on working if you do not understand the purpose behind it?’ His internal conflict reflects his difficulty in processing the grief of his beloved Conrad’s death. In a few earlier sequences, we see the actress playing Marge breaking her character to tell him to use his emotions toward the loss of the playwright. Jonah went to the lengths of hurting himself to achieve that. His anger towards not being able to do his role right reflects his deep feelings toward his lover, the deceased playwright.

During Jonah’s emotional outbreak, Schubert advises him to carry on even if he does not understand a thing. Jonah then walks out to the balcony to meet the actress (Margot Robbie), who was supposed to play his wife. Her role was later cut almost entirely from the play. In an earlier version, they were supposed to meet in a dream on the alien’s planet (or its moon). They speak about how Augie will need to carry on after his wife’s passing. We get an understanding of the core of the film – ‘Life goes on.’ We have to continue living despite the irreversible or inexplicable circumstances.

In a bizarre sequence, we see the theatre actors gathered together in front of the playwright and the director. He asks them to repeat the line – ‘You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep.’ During their recital, an alien suddenly arrives in the room and walks among them. Despite my uncertainty about the scene’s and the line’s intention, I suppose it is to establish the importance of a similar stage in a person’s life. You may need to go into a slumber after a devastating event to process your emotions.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Back in the play, we see that the temporary residents have all left the Asteroid City except Stanley, Augie, and their family. It turns out the honorees used their inventions to get the quarantine lifted. After bidding farewell to the beloved women in their lives, they plan to depart from this town. In the local diner, Woodrow reveals that the General slipped him an envelope with his scholarship. The ending of Asteroid City finds the manager handing over a note left by Midge to Augie. In that, Midge shares her address to continue having their communication in the future. So even in the play, the grief-struck character learns that life goes on.

Read More: Here’s Where to Watch and Stream the new Wes Anderson movie ‘Asteroid City’ online

Trailer:

Asteroid City (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia
Asteroid City (2023) Movie Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Stephen Park, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie, Tony Revolori, Jake Ryan, Jeff Goldblum
Other  Details of Asteroid City (2023) Movie: Genre – Comedy/Drama, Runtime – 1h 45m
Where to watch Asteroid City

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