Monday, October 15, 2007
Some notes on THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007)............8.5/10
Yes, Anderson uses literal baggage (the three brothers' dead father's luggage) to represent ......baggage. The luggage, split between Jack, Francis, and Peter is the physical representation of how they carry their "emotional baggage," as a mechanism of loss. Anderson pushes past metaphor and into metonym. It is what it is. The baggage of their dead father.
Though it was obvious from the start, Anderson has developed such a characteristic dialect that each film is a landmark in the process of a language, which is great fun for those who view him as a craftsman. Anderson emphatically and confidently engages the medium on all fronts. With DARJEELING, Anderson has made a considerable effort to ensure himself as a filmmaker with longevity. Its a new coctail of familiar elements. Easily one of the funniest films in recent years despite its somber undercurrents, DARJEELING is about a fractured family suddenly together again which compares directly to TENNENBAUMS but Anderson is not as generous or direct with flashbacks and context in his new film. Part of its excellence is how and when we learn things about each character and their relationships....in passing.
THE DARJEELING LIMITED is great step forward for Wes Anderson and also a welcome step backwards. Though still imbued with his usual modes; saturated colors, hand-crafted sets, often centered framing, theatrical timing, arial detail shots - and above all, quirky characters trying to relocate and recapture themselves after great trauma - this film is a new leaner amalgam. THE DARJEELING LIMITED is Anderson’s most mature work, being that it is the result of an instructive and deliberate retrospection. He has extracted the most functional and creative elements of his practice rather than simply carrying on. As was said of Mizoguchi's SANSHO THE BAILIFF (1954) by critic Tadao Sato, "after an artist has delved deeply into his work, he often arrives at his simplest style of expression. In this film (SANSHO), needless drama and imbellishment are eliminated." I think this is true of DARJEELING as well, or at least that it is a notable step in a similar and effective process of distillation by Anderson. This is a film about three people who are rendered vacant by loose ends and questions, not necessarily about who they were and who they will be afterwards. Its simply about the force that finally breaks them from their glazed-over lives so that they can engage all that is happening to them presently. Recall what Jack says of his final short story (which is part of the script for Hotel Chevalier). "It's just an ending, i dont have the beginning yet." DARJEELING is an ending before a beginning. It is merely the fog lifting.
DARJEELING moves at a different meter than his past works, more kinetic in ways (it takes place on a train), and more insular in timeframe and structure. The principal characters, three American brothers (Francis, Jack, and Peter - Owen WIlson, Jason Swartzman, and Adrien Brody) hampered by the death of their father, scarce mother, and destructive emotional patterns, obscurely seek reconnection under the efforts of their eldest (Francis, who is secretly taking everyone to see their estranged mother who is now a nun in rural India) after a year of separation.....on a trip to India no less. They bounce around uneasily in tight spaces in which they still manage to keep secrets (items they comically, compulsively, and connivingly forfeit to one another). Even when they are outside of the train their emotional and geographical exile keeps them in a fixed interaction, therefore the energy of the film comes ironically from its systemic confinement.
It should be said that while the brothers stay in close orbit of one another, their greatest developments occur when they don’t have walls to impact...when something happens beyond their narcisism and scope to which they must measure themselves spontaneously. For Anderson, confinement works for pacing, but openness works for variety and character development, and the two are balanced well.
Anderson curbs his often compulsive quirky flashbacks and exchanges them for fragmented recollections spoken in passing (sometimes written in short stories by Jack), which are linked and flourished in one perfectly placed, lengthy, late flashback (a fantastic piece of filmmaking on its own).
Another measure of maturity in DARJEELING’s rather random but calculated unfolding, is that it isn’t terribly romantic ... romantic in the sense of the characters breaking down to honestly embrace the culture whereby wholly changing themselves. They don't, in fact they fight it for the most part, engaging in inda shallowly and cynically - something they don’t significantly shake. They embrace the quality of the train, passing things by. While to some degree they are each changed, they are much the same in the end, continuing their base neurosis and tendencies, but with a lightness and self-awareness gained. Though all three share a singular impetus of suffering, they grow on their own terms and to the extent that they need, becoming honest and reflexive for the first time in a long time.
Like in all Anderson’s films the characters seek to reclaim vestiges of their former lives and must do so by ultimately letting them go (a quality carried throughout the films passing layers), and never painted so aptly than by the brothers tossing their dead father’s luggage - items they’ve carried with great inconvenience, individually and together, literally and emotionally, from the beginning - in order to catch their last train home. Anderson apparently has the ability to lace an entire film with, and make you relish, an obvious metaphor because it is utterly simlple and perfect, and I'm all the more impressed.