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a review of wes anderson’s the darjeeling limited October 28, 2007

Posted by KG in arts/culture, comedy, film, music, style.
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wes anderson’s movies typically deal with themes of angst and human fragility, and the darjeeling limited is no different. the upper-class malaise, listlessness, and depression that anderson has perfected so well into witty, whimsical, and quirky films is perhaps best exemplified by darjeeling. three brothers meet in india for what the eldest, played by owen wilson, hopes will be a familial reconciliation and spiritual journey.

we find out that the patriarch of the whitman family recently died after being struck by a cab in new york city. the whitman boys, rich and spoiled, quarrel over their father’s post-mortem affections and trivial possessions, like his oversized sunglasses and razor, to great comic effect courtesy of owen wilson’s classic understated delivery and southern drawl.

the three embark on the darjeeling limited, a train which serves as the diorama for anderson’s classic cinematography. in the train compartment we learn about the familial dysfunction, and apparent parental neglect. the kind that trust fund babies lament over while traveling first-class through india, and in this case with personal assistants who laminate their morning itineraries.

the whitman boys are seeking to fill the void left by the death of their father, and searching for answers in india. it turns out that their mother recently relocated to the himalayas, apparently now a nun, a curiosity which wilson’s character hopes to find out about once he tracks her down. the boys are looking not only for their mother, but a real relationship with each other, and a sense of family that their jet setting cannot buy. all of this is accompanied by charming secondary characters, like the recurring waris ahluwalia (see here and here for more on waris), who plays the no-nonsense train steward. anderson does not disappoint with all of the elements that are signatures of his cinematic sensibility: enchanting saturated shots of the well-dressed characters, surreal dollhouse frames, fanciful patterns, and colorful india framed in panorama. not to mention the clever dialogue that make wes anderson’s films so unique and that his fans have come to appreciate.

the film isn’t invested in and weighed down by too much self-indulgence in the family’s dysfunction. it manages to breathe, not bogged down by existential musings, allowing one to enjoy the eccentric and absurd humor of anderson and his like-minded collaborators.

he credits the indian filmmaker satyajit ray as an influence on darjeeling, his fifth film:

“’My main knowledge of Indian films is Ray’s films, which I learned about from renting Teen Kanya (Three Daughters) on Betamax in my video store in Houston, Texas, when I was about 15. I also love Jean Renoir’s film The River, which was made by a French director, but is a very beautiful Indian film,’ he said. ‘Ray’s films, along with The River and Louis Malle’s documentaries, were essentially all I knew about India before coming here. I became somewhat obsessed with the India I learned about from those films.’ Anderson has been hooked on Ray ever since. ‘Ray is one of my favourites. His films (which were usually adapted by him from books) feel like novels to me. He draws you very close to his characters, and his stories are almost always about people going through a major internal transition.’”

the boys find what they are looking for in india and ultimately it’s not india itself, but rather the ability to be comfortable with each other. india is the backdrop and the catalyst. similarly, wes anderson seems to have found something that’s been missing as well, striking a balance between his reflective familial tropes and ironic wit. while not his most deep or complex film, the darjeeling limited is new territory for the auteur, finding the pacing that makes this a wonderful introduction to his work for the uninitiated.

from the darjeeling limited sountrack:

satyajit ray – title music from teen kanya:

the rolling stones – play with fire:

jason schwartzman interview on npr (10:11 min)

wes anderson, adrien brody, and waris ahluwali discuss darjeeling at new york film festival press conference

update:

charlie rose interviews wes anderson 10/26/07

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