A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Darjeeling Limited

May 1, 2011

The Darjeeling Limited

From the very beginning of this movie it is clear that is another Wes Anderson film. It has the blocky yellow title cards. It has the strangely composed dolly shots that feel like the camera is moving across intricate dioramas. It has the awkward and broken people who say dreadful and honest things to each-other. It has the idiosyncratic music choices that periodically replace dialog as a means of storytelling.

My first impression of this movie when I saw it in the theater was not too favorable. I enjoyed it well enough, but I couldn’t help feeling like I had seen much of this before. Wes Anderson has such a distinctive style that after a while his films start to have a somewhat “samey” feel to them. It’s in his shot composition, his camera moves, and in his stilted and stylized dialog. I will say, however, that my opinion of this film has improved with subsequent viewings. It will never reach the level of respect I have for The Royal Tenenbaums or The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but I do enjoy watching it.

Part of the reason I didn’t enjoy it so much the first time around was probably that the first character we meet in the movie is somewhat loathsome. There’s a sort of preamble – a short film before the film (in the spirit of the Crimson Permanent Assurance at the start of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.) This introduces us to Jack – a lost soul who is living in a hotel room in Paris. Wen his ex-girlfriend tracks him down in the hotel (“It wasn’t actually very hard” she says) he is simultaneously obsessively welcoming to her (putting their song on his iPod and drawing her a bath) and despicably cold to her. It’s a strange little interlude that does not endear me to Jack. It also has one of the least sexy sex scenes ever filmed. Natalie Portman plays the ex-girlfriend and she has obvious bruises that are revealed as her clothes come off. Jack basically tells her that he doesn’t care if he hurts her.

Cut to a harried Bill Murray being rushed by a crazy taxi driver through the streets of India. He doesn’t catch his train (and this movie isn’t really about him anyhow) but Adrien Brody does and so starts the movie proper. Soon we meet Jack’s brothers. There’s Adrien is Peter and Owen Wilson is Francis. Francis has called the other two together to this train in India on a sort of mystical quest after he had a near death experience. The three of them haven’t spoken in a year and don’t seem to get along particularly well. The whole movie is about just why that is, and how they can come back together as a family.

I’ve already mentioned how Jason Schwartzman as Jack is not a particularly appealing character. He’s gone through some kind of break up and is clearly still obsessed with his ex girlfriend. (He has the code to her answering machine and periodically calls it to check her messages.) He’s also somewhat of a letch, though that might just be him looking for something or somebody to forget his ex with. Francis is obsessed with bringing the family back together again but is more than a little eccentric. He’s bringing his two brothers to every spiritual shrine and tabernacle along the way through India looking for something, and he secretly wants to find their estranged mother who is living as a nun st the foot of the Himalayas. Meanwhile Peter is having a tough time letting go of their deceased father. He wears his prescription sunglasses (which he can’t see out of) and uses his antique razor. All three of the brothers use their father’s unique and strange matched luggage, of which there seems to be quite a massive collection.

What ultimately wins me over and makes me enjoy this movie is the spectacular production design and attention to detail. The train itself, the titular Darjeeling Limited, is stunning. It’s a complex set in an actual operating train modified to accommodate a film crew. Every inch of the train is filled with intricate hand painted detail, and even though the film doesn’t linger on it that detail seeps into the entire production. There’s an absolutely spellbinding shot that shows the world as a train and connects all the characters in the movie into a single narrative. It has to be seen to be believed.

There’s also a lot of humor to this movie. It’s filled with classic Wes Anderson moments that shouldn’t be funny but are. Like the complete break down when the brothers simply cannot stand to be with each other any more. Like Francis laying out agreements for his brothers to live by and ordering their dinner for them. Like the misdirection involving Bill Murray.

It’s a strange sort of film. It has some fairly touching moments. It has a lot of awkward confrontation. It has astonishing artistic shot composition, a completely incongruous score and fantastic actors. It has characters confronting mortality and learning to deal with being different. In short – it’s a Wes Anderson film. No matter how formulaic his films may seem after watching sour or five of them over and over as I have, I can’t help but think that it’s a good thing that he just keeps making them. because there’s nothing quite like them out there.

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May 1, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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