the better truth

the better truth

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Train Kept A’Rollin’

Wes Anderson specializes in the humorous and off-beat. Sometimes he’s funny, i.e. “Rushmore”, and sometimes things seem abit too off the beaten path: “The Life Acquatic”. “The Darjeeling Limited” is a road less traveled but for Anderson and co. – a very familiar path.

The American dysfunctional family is the bread and butter for most members of the Writer’s Guild and even more young novelists. It is a seemingly endless mine of poignant irony and likable anti-heroes. This latest effort by Anderson and co. centers around three brothers and their search for something. Unlike the brothers Karmazov there is no patricide in their spiritual journey. Daddy in this case is dead. Mommie has fled and the two of the brothers are unknowingly being strong-armed into a grand reconciliation quest. The setting is where all contemporary Western spiritual journeys start – from the Fab Four to Steve Jobs – get your tickets ready we’re on a train in India. Anderson is well aware of the irony and he’s clever enough to play on the absurdity of truth seeking tourists. There is some good slap-stick, a strong ensemble cast and a strong script – but it’s a long ride. Brevity really is the soul of wit. Anderson negatively proves the point.

The film had some nice moments. There is a wonderful sequence involving the brothers interacting with some villagers during a funeral: American hipsters bumbling into the Apu Trilogy – it worked. Their dislocation augmented the majesty of the locals. The images spoke. There was also a nice surrealistic sequence showing all the different players magically appearing in compartments on the train. Unfortunately things failed to stay on track. Collaboration is a two edged sword. It’s great to work with friends but how honest can you be? The first 15 minutes of this work is a short loosely connected to the feature in which one of the brothers has an encounter with his nemesis/girlfriend/wife/lover. It didn’t work. It wasn’t funny. Maybe a seasoned borsch belter like Henny Youngman should have walked into the editing room and given the auteurs some advice: Kid ya gotta hook’em from the opening line. Anderson’s unwillingness to leave more on the editing room floor makes me suspect allegiance to individual performers and writers overrode the safeguards for the film as a whole. To put it in terms of another artistic endeavor that was produced post an Indian spiritual Journey: The White Album is good – but it would have been better WITHOUT Revolution #9. One can imagine Paul shrugging and not wanting to challenge John. There might have been a similar dynamic at work behind Anderson making the following choices: Why does t the film have 3 endings? Why does Bill Murray appear? Why find the mother appear and disappear?

Owen Wilson brings an unintended poignancy to the film. His character is the anchor that assumes the role of the absent parents and tragicomically brings everyone together while tearing them apart. It is revealed in the closing of the film that the spark for the family reunion is his failed suicide. Wilson’s real-life brush with self-destruction makes for uneasy reflections about the painfulness of quiet desperation. The tabloids put the finger for his troubles on an unscrupulous druggie “friend”. Funny thing about “friends” – sometimes they don’t bring out the best in you. Let’s hope Anderson’s next feature, which is being co-written by his buddy Noah Baumbach, hits the mark. My gut tells me he needs to find some new collaborators. Sometimes the best work comes from the acrimony - ask John and Paul about their Indian adventure.

No comments: