Anderson’s second film, Rushmore, was the acting debut of it’s lead Jason Schwartzman. Schwartzman’s character is fifteen year old Max Fischer, an attendee of the film’s namesake Rushmore Academy. Throughout the film, it becomes apparent that Rushmore stands for more than Max’s formal education, but as a means to escape the possible future ahead of him, i.e. that of his father, a poorly educated and ambition-less barber – we learn Max only attends Rushmore on a scholarship, and we as an audience assume he would not be a student of the academy otherwise. Max’s exaggerations and lies about his abilities and background, along with how he conducts himself – very different and much more mature than that of his schoolmates, making him highly unpopular – and the dream sequence that begins the film, where Max is seen as popular and highly intellectual, show he is ashamed of his reality, but his attendance at Rushmore and his involvement in extra curricular activities show his determination to escape to a more academically focused world.
Max also displays this desire in the company he keeps. Dirk Calloway, Max’s chapel partner and close friend, shows a strong loyalty to Max, and Max’s returned affection to Dirk could be seen as Max’s first taste of authority and ‘being looked up to’ by a younger student. Max has little connection with his other schoolmates, but being able to guide Dirk and almost make him his protege gives him a relationship that reflects his desires to be respected and admired.
Max’s relationship with Rushmore Academy’s main benefactor Herman Blume is another that reflects Max’s life ambitions. Max creates stronger friendships and connections to adults than he does with other teenagers, which shows his focus on goals and academia seem more of interest to a different generation than his own. Herman however benefits equally from his connection to Max – Herman looks up to Max just as much as Max looks up to him. Herman recognises the enthusiasm and vitality that has seemingly disappeared from his own life, and so reaches out to Max to learn and perhaps soak up some of the enthusiasm for life that Max seems to have in spades, seen first when Herman meets with Max and pleads ‘Come work for me!’ when Max seems to be withdrawing. Playing Herman Blume is Bill Murray, who said of the character; “An adult who wants to be friends with a high school kid is a sign the guy wants to start over again. He wants to cut off the limb he’s on and go back to his roots. He wants to clear the decks and just minimize his life. Blume is a guy who has a lot of money, but in spending time with a high school kid, he sees a simpler side of life. In Max he sees somebody who’s experiencing young love. He remembers what young love was like and realizes he hasn’t had that in a long time.”
The other adult Max connects with is Rosemary Cross, the first grade teacher at Rushmore Academy. Max first becomes interested in Miss Cross when he finds a quote written inside a library book from author and film maker Jacques Couseau, and tracks down who had written it there, and soon becomes the object of Max’s – and then Herman’s – affection. Miss Cross has her own detailed back story and her own flaws that make her more a compelling love interest for both Max and the audience. Awkwardly avoiding the affections of Max, she begins an affair with Herman, devastating Max and nearly destroying their friendship. Miss Cross is drawn to Max and Herman in a similar manner; both have tragedy in their lives along with eccentricities and similar good natures, which in turn Miss Cross possesses. After the death of her husband, she recognises the sadness in both Max and Herman that she knows of herself and connecting with them both means she is able to both grieve and accept her sadness as Herman does, and also see hope in the future as Max does.
Every character in the film has their own personal ‘Rushmore’, i.e. the thing they desire above all else. This idea is explicitly addressed when Max confronts Herman on his affair with Miss Cross, to which Herman replies ‘She’s my Rushmore, Max’ and he further responds ‘She was mine too.’ We see now Max’s character and desires have developed – before he craved academic acclaim, but he now realises that being loved and loving the right people is just as important to build the life and future he desires. This harks back to the Cousteau quote Miss Cross wrote in the book – ‘When one person, for whatever reason, has a chance to lead an exceptional life, he has no right to keep it to himself.’ Max now understands living this academic lifestyle may be a strong desire, but with no one to share it with achieving it would seem hollow. The closing scene of the three together at the after party of Max’s play along with his new found friends shows he has truly embraced his new understanding of how to be happy.