(2007) dir. Wes Anderson
viewed: 10/09/07 at the Embarcadero Center Cinema, SF, CA
Wes Anderson is one of those few directors in Hollywood that I look forward to his films no matter what they are, when they come out, and anything. I like the style of his visual aesthetics and humor, and find some sublime pleasure in what I still think is his best film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). The Darjeeling Limited, his latest film, is no departure from his area, characters, issues, approaches, even though it’s set in the exoticness of India. His characters, all therapy-deprived, emotional, intelligent members of an off-beat family, are trying to find themselves, quite literally, in a spiritual quest for brotherhood. Like the adage “No matter where you go, there you are,” the characters find that finding themselves is no easier in a foreign land than anywhere else.
Anderson loves the foreign landscape, the details of decoration, the colors and the outright difference of India to the characters. Of course, his take on it is highly stylized, as is his visual take on anything. Using the compartmentalization of the train space, Anderson loves to shift between berths and windows, showing the segments of people in one room, or reframing them time and again within a single scene. Like in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, in which the ship was a visual playground, cut open and tracked through, the train also is chopped and dissected to allow vantages on the characters and extras. It’s a strong visual for Anderson, and it’s engaging and interesting; it’s is a strong part of the visual aesthetic.
One of my thoughts that arose while watching the film, thinking about its intentions and depths (or lack thereof), was how simply enjoyable it was, the tone and the humor, the characterization (even if it leans in the direction of pretense rather than reality), is just that it is fun and it is funny. The images of the brothers: Owen Wilson’s bandaged face, Adrien Brody’s lanky body and face with the over-sized sunglasses, and Jason Schwartzman’s retro mustache all positioned time and again in shots together, ultimately winding up on a motorcycle, images that have an iconic quality to them, something akin to Frank Capra’s classic It Happened One Night (1934)…there is something of verve and I don’t know how else to say it, but it has that classic feel to it, even when it shows its weaknesses.
The film’s weakness, I suppose, is only if you look at other of Anderson’s films. He mines the same territory, uses some of the same narrative devices (most notably the action sequence in which the brothers show sudden heroism, akin to the bizarre over-the-top action sequence in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), and tones. It’s a bit samey. Which is fine to enjoy, but sort of limits Anderson from really achieving something more with his films. Even his emotional landscape of characters with their deep familial obsessions and dysfunctions is no different in many of his films. Maybe, within this film itself, it’s not an issue, but only if you take the others into consideration.
Still, I do like his humor, his writing, his visual style. It’s charming and amusing and engaging and entertaining. The Darjeeling Limited, whether its his best film or not, is lovely and sweet and funny. I will continue to anticipate his future films and hope that he can continue to develop as a filmmaker.