dir: Wes Anderson
[img_assist|nid=65|title=Men, brothers, dickheads|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=200]
Quirkfest abounds. So much goddamn quirk that it’s fair dripping from the screen. But what would you expect from a Wes Anderson flick?
Every goddamn flick the guy’s made has been so quirky and idiosyncratic that, by now, you know if you can tolerate any of his new flicks based on whether you’ve tolerated any of his other flicks.
Of course, then there’s the fact that some of his flicks are less tolerable than others, even when you like them.
I have liked some of his flicks, and hated some of them, so: flip a coin, guess how I went with this one.
I was not a fan of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, despite the fact that every Anderson film is the same, and some, like The Life Aquatic, are more the same than others. So I approached The Darjeeling Limited with ample trepidation.
This flick, thankfully, is less bad and more enjoyable than Life Aquatic. The reason is that it’s not as aggressively annoying as the former film, and it doesn’t have a character as rampantly annoying as Bill Murray was in that film.
The Darjeeling Limited is a train that three brothers travel across India upon. They have reunited after a year apart since their father died. It is less an actual train and more a Wes Anderson train, in that it is a meticulously crafted Andersonian idealisation of a train for the purposes of his peculiar form of storytelling.
Uniforms are very important in Anderson films, and the three main characters here have their particular looks and uniforms down pat. The cynical out there might posit the idea that, for Anderson, giving a character a uniform is his substitute for actually giving them any depth or believability as characters. I would contend, being horribly cynical myself, that the allegation is true much of the time.
Here the uniforms aren’t as arbitrary, but the characters are very much like living, breathing pigeonholes.
Jack (Jason Schwartzman) is a moustachioed writer depressed because Natalie Portman had break-up sex with him in the short movie preceding the film, called Hotel Chevalier. Watching Hotel Chevalier is certainly not a necessity in comprehending Darjeeling Limited, but it does add to it a bit, especially since it explains several scenes later on. Also, Portman is boyish and nude, for those wrestling with their latent feelings towards androgynous actors with splendid bottoms, so there’s an added attraction, I guess.
Peter (Adrien Brody) is fairly glum himself, and seems to be wearing and holding many of their dead father’s possessions and clothing. His wife, who he was always expecting to divorce, is 8 months pregnant, and the notion of impending fatherhood does not appear to delight him.
To top it all off, Anderson regular Owen Wilson, heavily bandaged and sporting headgear, is their big brother Francis, who is continually trying to organise the other two brothers, telling them what they want and how they feel.
There is something deeply wrong with their relationship. When one of them points out that had they never been brothers, they might have had a chance at being friends, you doubt even that possibility. They couldn’t be less alike and couldn’t have less in common. But they are joined by circumstance and by a shared history of abandonment.
Francis tries to organise everything that goes on around them, to little avail. Jack alternates between nailing one of the female attendants on the train and moping over his doomed love affair with the absent Portman. He’s written a short story, which the brothers keep commenting on, as he lamely rejoinders “But it’s all fiction”, despite the fact that the elements are taken from the people around him. He also keeps playing pieces of the soundtrack on his iPod, including the strange but somehow appropriate Where Do You Go To (My Lovely) by Peter Sarstedt, which goes along with his weird penchant for staging events. I refer to the character, not the director.
Everywhere they go they lug (or just as often have a team of porters lug around) eleven pieces of numbered, monogrammed Luis Vuitton luggage. Whether on train, bus, or walking along a river, the baggage is ever present. Sure, it contains everything they could ever need, from iPod docks to old time razors and cobras, but you’d think it would be hard carrying all that baggage around, wouldn’t you?
Do you think the film might reach a point where it is in the best interests of these brothers to cast aside their baggage in order to be free?
You never know. On the most part, the conflicts between the brothers and the ‘adventures’ that occur to them along the way (though Francis’s stated objective for the journey is the hope that the brothers can achieve some kind of spiritual awakening and become closer, his real purpose is to find their mother) are meant to be amusing and quirky. On the most part, they are. The brothers are neurotic messes to varying degrees, and have constantly shifting loyalties between them and resentments that have the well worn grooves of decades to have been refined. As anyone who’s not an orphan might know, sometimes no matter how much time you’ve spent away from family, once with them again people can fall into the roles and ruts of long ago.
Most of the people involved here, and most of the things they do are all about trying to get away from themselves, which, needless to say is fundamentally unsuccessful. Travel all you want, you can’t get away from yourself. But you can get away from annoying people. At various times the brothers try to escape each other or their journey, but end up being pulled back into each other’s orbit by, what, exactly?
We’re not to know. The false hopes held out to them of bonding in some way or of reconnecting with the mother who abandoned them are just as easily dashed, putting the lie to similar setups but completely different films where people would rant and rail against their siblings/parents until some teary reunion, catharsis and belated expression of love makes everything all right.
Real life, and even in the hypercharged surreal fussy world of Wes Anderson, doesn’t work like that (unless it’s convenient).
India is India, and looks beautiful and surreal and welcoming and alien all at the same time. There’s no attempt to show the boys ‘going native’, so they roll through the country like colonial masters as if it’s 70 years ago and the word ‘partition’ refers to something you use to improve the décor of a room.
When some kind of dramatic reality impinges upon the brother’s self-indulgent journey (in the form of their attempts to save three boys who accidentally find themselves in a swift flowing river), it has the effect of throwing cold water on us as well, lurching us out of the complacent, Anderson-induced la-di-da stupor that he deliberately put us in. The result is a sequence of great sadness at odds with most of the rest of the flicks this director has ever been responsible for.
Thankfully, this sequence is not used in the way such a sequence could be used in a more serious (but facile) drama, where the situation would be used to show how these characters ‘grow’ and come to terms with other blah blah blahs. The brothers, affected certainly, eventually have to go on their merry way, still unchanged.
When the flick flashes back to the year before, we see the brothers acting out in silly ways that actually explain much of their pathology, all whilst interacting with a Mercedes mechanic inexplicably played by famed director Barbet Schroeder, who seems more distraught at the mention of their father’s death than they are. At the very least it indicates the origin of Peter’s obsession with his father’s material goods.
Why are the brothers such strange emotional fuckups? Is it because of unresolved grief over their father’s death, over their abandonment by their mother, or just the fact that they seem to come from that same rarefied New York brownstone world of wealth and emotional distance that typifies cinematic depictions of same? I don’t know, and I don’t think we’re supposed to know exactly. But there is a resolution of sorts, so they and we can go on.
I really did enjoy it, which surprised me, because I thought my tolerance for Anderson’s shit had dissipated over time. It turns out that I can still enjoy his anal-retentively constructed jewellery box-style movies that seem to be the construct of autism as much as auteurism. I appreciate the craftsmanship, and as much as viewers and critics might think he’s stuck in the same rut pumping out the same flick over and over, there are stylistic, technical and storytelling differences that are appreciable and do represent some growth in his abilities over time.
But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone apart from Anderson fans. I can imagine some people I know throwing beer kegs through the screen at this kind of hoity-toity flick.
And who’s to say that’s not a legitimate response or example of thoughtful film criticism?
7 ways in which the editing almost gave me whiplash out of 10
“I wonder if the three of us would've been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people.” – The Darjeeling Limited.