the darjeeling limited (2007)

The Darjeeling Limited is the new film from Wes Anderson. If you're reading this and you've been paying even the slightest bit of attention to cinema for the past decade, you most likely know who he is. He more or less started the quirky-comedy trend in this decade's indie films with his early work like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, and was apparently chosen by Martin Scorsese as "the next Scorsese", though I'm not exactly sure what that means. I suppose it's that his cinematic reputation will one day match that of Scorsese's? ... Anyway, Anderson is the perfect fit for many film aficionados simply due to the brevity of his filmography. The Darjeeling Limited is only his fifth film, meaning if you want to become a real Anderson know-it-all, you can easily do so in about a week. Fortunately for Anderson, this large number of know-it-all's probably means you'll have a veritable cult of fans who will seek out each of your new films and plunk down their $9.50 without question. Unfortunately for Anderson, these know-it-all's will also be judging the new work twice as harshly. Which leads us to the reception this new picture has gotten: a whole lot of know-it-alls turning up their noses at Anderson for being a one-trick pony. Before entering the theater tonight, I was fully prepared for the unfortunate realization that Wes Anderson would turn out to be just another bad case of the M. Night Shyamalan's. Well, what I wasn't prepared for was what I got: a genuinely lovable film with endearing characters and plenty of charm. Yes, contrary to popular belief, Wes Anderson really is maturing as a filmmaker, just maybe not as rapidly as some had hoped. 

Now for the nitty gritty. The Darjeeling Limited is a curious film, and far more than anyone I've talked to prior to seeing the film is giving it credit for. The biggest curiosity about it is what may have simply been a good marketing ploy for advertising the film/getting some much needed funds from Apple. The short that precedes the film, Hotel Chevalier adds a nice dimension, not only to fill out the characters, but to give the film a serialized, episodic quality. I'd go so far as to say it adds a grandiose and epic quality to a film that is, honestly, much too short. Also, the short brings in yet another curiosity (and this is the big one) that results in Wes Anderson taking another step in his career that he has yet to (to my knowledge anyway) even contemplate. The short results in the feature being labeled as "Part 2" of the adventure, and instantly got me wondering how many installments there actually would be. And so, you can see where I'm going. A sequel. Yes. Because, to be honest, my biggest gripe with The Darjeeling Limited was that it set up far too much and wrapped up almost nothing. Okay, not almost nothing, it wrapped up absolutely nothing. Some sort of existential/spiritual statement about leaving the past behind and letting go of your "baggage" (which is either a heavy-handed or well-done metaphor, I haven't made up my mind)? Perhaps. I mean, it's what I had initially thought. But then I got around to considering the possibilities. We've got Part 1 and 2 to a story without an ending, a story which is punctuated by Angelica Huston in her short cameo, her parting words being "to be continued". I'd really like to see Anderson follow through on this and give us a part 3, whether it's a short film or a feature, that brings the story of The Darjeeling Limited to a nice close. Or, this extreme open-ended-ness is part of the movie's charm, again, I haven't made up my mind. Which is a tough thing to do considering what we're provided with, which is essentially half of a story arc. Anderson fills this thing with lovable characters, characters that are so vibrant that it becomes instantly obvious why it takes this guy three years to make each one of his films. They each have intricate backstories, and there are a million plot threads thrown out through the course of this film. In this way, if a sequel isn't planned to the film, it may have just been a lazy move on Anderson's part, but of the many things this guy is, I just don't think that lazy is one of them. He's crafted a nice journey with this film, a meandering plot that invites you to meander with it, and there's no way I could help myself. The only thing I miss a bit of is the humor of those initial ventures, but he has instead substituted heart for humor, and I didn't see anything wrong with that.

It's to the film's credit that Anderson goes for less laughs this time around and it's what really makes me think that he's maturing more than he's being given credit for. By the time Anderson made it to his most recent film (besides this one obviously) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, he had become a bit too sure of himself. How smug he looked as he cracked out dead-pan gag after dead-pan gag, directing his actors to deliver lines with goofy faces rather than resonating emotion. Here, we get a new Anderson, a far more humble Anderson, who leaves behind the smug tone and the offbeat humor to try to let us sit back for a train ride. This film can be summed up as being simply laid-back. Which is why I'm having a hard time understanding a lot of the criticisms, this film is so unassuming and open, it is obviously made by a director who has grown into the art of filmmaking. Yes, the story deals with Anderson's signature themes, but it's not like I was expecting a complete 180 so early in his career. Do people rag on Woody Allen films for being "all the same"? Okay, yes, they do, but the point is I don't think that Love and Death is a weak film simply because Sleeper and Bananas came before it. With that being said, this means that Anderson's Annie Hall and Manhattan should be just around the corner, and if they're not, I'll take back my praise. Before they come around though, I'd love to see a Darjeeling Limited part 3. And I don't see the harm in it, in fact it would be fitting for a film that takes so much of its tone and even lifts its music from Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy, and though it's no Pather Panchali, I'd like to think that this may have been one of the trains the young Apu watched in the field by his house (separated by 50 or so years of cinema of course). By that logic, the next film would be Aparajito, which is my favorite of the three, so bring on more Darjeeling. As far as this film goes, Anderson constructs it with  his usual aesthetics of symmetrical, wide cinemascope. It looks great as his vibrant colors fill the trains and towns that the brothers lodge in along the way. If there's one thing to say about Anderson it's that his films will always be pleasing to look at. The cast does an excellent job with some of the most fun bits being the cameos by Bill Murray, Natalie Portman and Angelica Huston. It's another reason for wanting more, I honestly would like to hear the story behind Bill Murray's businessman character. But oh well, even if we never hear the conclusions, The Darjeeling Limited is busting as the seams with intrigue, and it's one enjoyable time. 

So, yeah, if you're a big fan of Anderson check it out, but look for what it really means for a director to mature. I don't think it means telling a completely new story, just telling it better and sharpening the craft. It seems to me that I'm certifying a lot of films this year, but as I mentioned last time, none of them seem to wow me. Oh well, if 2007 is the year of the enjoyable, but not stunning, film, so be it. It could be a lot worse. Part of my sympathies for Anderson probably stem from the fact that I'm getting closer and closer to graduation, and soon I'll be attempting to join his industry. If all goes well, I'll be under the same type of scorn (I can only hope) he is right now. So take it easy, relax, sit back and enjoy the film.