Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mitch Reviews Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited

[A second guest blogger joins us, with a review of Wes Anderson's new movie. I asked Mitch to keep it to 500 words, but now I think that may have been unnecessarily harsh. Point being, if you think this is too short, that is my fault, not Mitch's. He may have more to say in the comments. A spoiler follows, but I do not care much about spoilers for a movie like this , whose virtues are elsewhere.]

I want to live in the world inside Wes Anderson’s head, where everything is immaculately framed by revealing nick-knacks and is perfectly choreographed to ambivalent folk music. Anderson’s worthy new film, The Darjeeling Limited, reinforces this desire.

The film’s title refers to a powder blue passenger train transporting three estranged brothers through India on a self-imposed “spiritual journey.” Anderson also continues to study the human response to death – in The Royal Tenebaums Gene Hackman’s pending death (counterfeit or otherwise) motivates his reconciliation with his family, in The Life Aquatic Steve Zissou vows to avenge a dead friend and in Darjeeling the three Whitman brothers must finally make sense of their father’s death after a year. One wonders if Anderson is secretly working on a five-part box set of films about the stages of grief.

As with the director’s other films, the aesthetic is impeccable. The messy red Sanskrit on the exterior of the train, the Julian Davies song on Jason Schwartzman’s iPod player, the set of monogrammed luggage designed for the film by Marc Jacobs of Louis Vuitton – there is an inimitable magic in Anderson’s arrangement of this stuff. These elements, like good song lyrics, might seem trite or needlessly random when taken out of context, but sequenced correctly they crackle with a sudden and brief harmony.

The screenplay (written by Anderson, Schwartzman and Roman Coppola) characterizes the backstabbing brothers with much glee. If one character leaves a scene, the other two instantly form an alliance against him, until he returns and the process repeats. In one very entertaining scene, each brother attempts to one-up the strength others’ illegal painkillers. Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody and Schwartzman navigate the subtleties of the material charmingly. Wilson is particularly good as the bandaged, overbearing Francis; but the synchronicity of the actor’s recent suicide attempt and his beaten-up demeanor in this movie absolutely boggles my mind.

Viewers (like me) who were put off by the abrupt character death towards the end of The Life Aquatic might be frustrated by a similar plot swerve in this film. Granted, the execution here isn’t as hasty as in Aquatic, but its occurrence and necessity to the plot still troubles me, like the old screenwriting adage against suddenly “burning the barn down” in the third act.

Then again, it seems unfair to chastise a film for a sudden death, when the whole premise of the story hangs on the reaction to sudden, unexpected death? If I really want to live in Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic head, I suppose I have to accept that the same ideas are bound to whiz by a couple of times.

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