Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited Appeal of Wes Anderson


Three quirky character actors pray at some magic Hindu thing or other

This is a real tipping point for one of my generation's favorite auteur-type directory persons, the film that makes critics realize that the one-trick pony's one trick gets old after the third or fourth time. In his defense, he's genuinely talented. Rushmore personally moves me to this day. The Royal Tenenbaums didn't interest me in the least. The quirkiness was on overdrive, and most of the public's interest in his style peaked on it and burned out with it. Few folks went to see The Life Aquatic, which I did enjoy, but wasn't moved by.

A friend of mine pinpointed that film as the tipping point - to him, the story was a statement from Anderson regarding himself and his career. Bill Murray's character has found specialized success and acclaim, and doesn't know what to do next. I can see that for Anderson. No wonder he started doing credit card commercials afterwards.

The real tragedy of most modern auteurist directors is that they're such self-centered whiz kids who never got to grow up. A total non-talent like Quentin Tarantino makes movies about hipster references to other movies, since that's his whole life. Kevin Smith never pushed himself beyond the artistic demands of Clerks, since that film was based on his life up to that point and he let his fame prevent him from having any kind of significant life experience since then.

Anderson's best film was based on his childhood, and his subsequent films have been oblique whining about family estrangement and the pressure of talent and fame.

Darjeeling is the first Anderson film to feel completely pointless, and even makes such pointlessness a point of navigation. Owen Wilson's character has brought his two brothers together, ostensibly with vague aspirations to come together SOMEHOW. They're in India, right? Everything is spiritual and magical and something is bound to happen that will reconcile them from their familial estrangement.

Eventually we find out he wants to get them to see their mother. They do, and it resolves nothing. The mother admits to them she has no great revelation that will bring the family together, so they must express themselves without words. Cut to the actors staring at each other and smiling. Then the mother takes off the next morning, guaranteeing there will be no closure.

Earlier in the film, stranded from the titular train, Jason Schwartzman comments that it would seem meaningful if they were to hear the sound of a train whistle at the moment. It doesn't happen, and Adrian Brody says it would merely be annoying.

Ha-ha, audience. This is a movie where as little as possible happens, and if you're looking for deeper meanings you'll have to supply them yourself. Like Anderson's other movies, there will be at least 3 or 4 fake endings for you to start reaching an internal stopping point for emotional involvement to the travelogue of a story.

For instance, is there any reason the movie is in India? No more than why Bill Murray and the less talented half of Ghost World needed to traipse around Tokyo in the much more offensively gratuitous Lost In Translation. I think the directors and producers just wanted to visit those places. For the movie characters, it's simply an exotic, colorful foreign place for them to do some soul-searching and resolve their petty personal crises come the final reel. Japan and India are merely trendy places in modern Western consciousness. How orientalist can you get?

Owen Wilson's character often exhibits his ignorance by not barely knowing what certain things are called. This seems more like a defensive concession of the location's gratuitousness than making a necessary detail of it.

Even the patented eclectic soundtrack™, also a staple of Tarantino's, feels like it's running on fumes. There probably aren't nearly as many songs as the more memorable mixlists of Rushmore and even The Life Aquatic, which finally features Devo after Mark Mothersbaugh scored his previous two films - no MM score this time, though. When the songs show up, they're played within the context of the movie from Jason Shwartzman's ipod. Macbooks are also featured throughout the film by a supporting character. Can Anderson's "Think Different" spot be far behind?

Die hard Anderson fans will more likely see the formulas as assets and not liabilities. To do so is still to pigeonhole the object of your fandom as only capable of a few things. At this point I'm a bit annoyed to notice that for three consecutive films now, Anderson marks the beginning of his third act with a sudden tragedy - the death of a major character, or an unknown one, or a suicide attempt - something to hush the room and qualify the "drama" tag of the coveted comedy / drama balancing act.

Some directors are so genuinely talented that their film-world status as auteurs boxes them into repeating their public perception rather than taking chances. Wes Anderson should try to be a little less like himself, or try director other people's scripts. It's working for David Cronenberg, and both men are genuine talents unlike the tweedledee and tweedledum of Miramax, Tarantino and Smith. David Lynch, however, is a genuine GENIUS and I don't mind waiting 5 years in between his brain droppings since each one is so dense and thick with peanuts of meaning.

The Darjeeling Limited's meaning a few years from now will be that it's the film where Owen Wilson's character mentions trying to kill himself, just before the real Owen Wilson actually did.

Could've used a choreographed dance number, too.

Jan Pehechaan Ho

2 comments:

Tom said...

To answer a comment you made on John K's blog: "Don't Touch That Dial" wasn't directed by John K. It was made during the second season of "Mighty Mouse" when he was doing "Beany and Cecil" at DIC.

Chip Butty said...

Huh. Thanks for the info!