Rated R, primarily for language and drug use. Okay, the guys take a bunch of Indian medications without prescription. But they do state at one point that they are going to make a campfire and get high. I'll count that as drug use. While there is no nudity in Darjeeling, there is a pretty graphic sex scene. There is nudity in "Hotel Chevalier" that is also accompanied by a sex scene. R.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
I told you! I am doing a paper on the visual travel narrative. There is going to be a lot of talk about the road film and we should all just get comfortable. (Note to self: Add National Lampoon's Vacation to the list.) I have all kinds of notes for my paper and I'm excited that I'm getting work done. Do you understand the satisfaction that comes with being both productive and then writing what you want to write about? Anyway, I know that The Darjeeling Limited isn't one of Wes Anderson's best according to most. But I don't really get that. I don't. Maybe there's something that I'm missing. When I rewatched The Life Aquatic, I kind of got where people were coming from with their dislike for the movie. I genuinely love The Darjeeling Limited / "Hotel Chevalier". Like, it's on the top end of the movies he's made. But I also know why I like it. So I'm going to force myself to try to see what other people have a problem with.
We watched a YouTube commentary on Wes Anderson in my film class the other day. One of the major points was that adults act like children and that children act like adults. I think this might be the most telling in The Darjeeling Limited. There's a byproduct that spins out of that. When Anderson keeps using a lot of the same actors like Owen Wilson and Jason Scwartzman, these guys are playing variations of the same characters they were playing in other movies. It's actually completely bizarre that Adrian Brody wasn't part of the Wes Anderson troupe before this point. He fits in so well. I kind of love that like whoa. (I'm a fanboy now. Sorry, it happens.) The thing that I might have that is slightly unfair in terms of loving this movie is that I like those characters. I tend to come down when a filmmaker becomes repetitive. I know me. It's the first thing I'll toss at a director when I see the same thing that happened before. I know it makes it a bit of a lesser film. I mean, it's the comment that everyone has about The Force Awakens. It's a pastiche and, in the case of Darjeeling Limited, it's a rip off of his own work. But I don't really like pigeonholing this movie like that. Part of that is that I think that The Darjeeling Limited is his next attempt at the road film. I love Bottle Rocket. A lot of that comes from the fact that I'm a huge snob and love saying that I adore Bottle Rocket. But Bottle Rocket definitely is Anderson working with constraints. The road movie hasn't been perfected yet. (Do I have to do Bottle Rocket for my paper if I think that Darjeeling Limited perfected the idea he attempted in the first one?) There's something inherently cool about the road movie. I also think I have a love / hate relationship with India. I talk about this with my review of the Apu Trilogy. India is one of the few places on Earth where there is simultaneous beauty and filth in the same place. Somehow, and this is my privilege talking, the poverty of the country is absolutely gorgeous. This is probably the worst way that I can say this. Perhaps it is the aesthetic of simplicity that we don't really have in America.
The American road trip is something special. We hit a lot of the same beats. But India is something on a scale I can't wrap my mind around. The country is so darned big (Oh, I talked about this a lot with Lion! ) that the personality isn't one thing. But there might be something about the embracing of a completely intense color palate that we don't really allow in America. We're kind of a country of pastels, at least in our artificial creations. India, and especially with Anderson's love of intense color, is one of stark contrasts. The world of The Darjeeling Limited, both on and off the train, stress the strong choice in color palates. Everything in this movie is a choice. Anderson loves paying attention to the details of a set, but The Darjeeling Limited offers the same intense attention to art but in almost an organic sense. There are moments, sure, where Anderson is just being Anderson. The suitcases are straight out of Anderson's collective conscious (I know what I wrote!). But Anderson's aesthetic is straight out of India. I was watching a scene with Schwartzman on the titular train. The scene is great and compelling, but I couldn't stop staring at the wallpaper pattern. It is this deep blue with a light blue checker pattern. Above that are these elephants. These are handpainted elephants. Unlike something like Royal Tenenbaums, these elephants look like they belong. I know. This is western mentality and thin description commenting on a whole different world. But it doesn't seem like it is trying as hard. I'm trying to come to a conclusion on this, because it is fundamental to my love affair with this movie that I haven't seen that many times. People comment that The Darjeeling Limited is Anderson trying way too hard to be himself. I actually think it is the movie that he is trying the least, but has the greatest success being aesthetically glorious.
Yes, the story is about the boys. I think that the main narrative works. But the setting is carrying a lot of weight. If you don't find the story about the boys and their problems fascinating (I do), the movie is just then a gorgeous road movie through India. But I do want to talk about the story and defend it. I hate defending movies. I think that a lot of people probably have a point, but I can't necessarily agree with this. I think I am just more emotionally invested in the story. These are three guys who are kind of terrible people. I know that I watch a lot of movies with terrible people doing terrible people doing terrible things. Francis is a control freak to the point of almost being a bully. Peter abandoned his pregnant wife to have time out for himself and to avoid responsibility. Jack is sexually selfish and indulges every slight that comes his way. Yeah, these guys suck in real life. But they are also compelling because there are moments where they are all amazingly good guys. I know that Anderson gave us one of these come-to-Jesus moments when the guys run into the kids crossing the river. But he doesn't make them supernaturally heroic. What he does is actually humble them in an extremely organic way. There's isn't a magical transition. They are still fundamentally the same guys, but with a sense of humility. I love that the river rescue doesn't go perfectly. I'm really downplaying this for the sake of avoiding spoilers, but that choice is so powerful to the slight-yet-important character change that happens with the three guys. I don't want them to come out of this situation as different people. That would be far too fairy tale for this movie. They are the same characters, only with a greater understanding of priorities. That character shift is one of the greater changes that I've seen in Anderson's work. Anderson kind of seems to be the king of the subtle change. Normally, it is the million cuts leading to a breakdown. The million cuts are still there. The brothers treat each other terribly and they still have the breakdown. But instead of that moment being the fix, it is the moment of altruism that gives them their shift. It's pretty enriching. The movie doesn't mind being unfunny for a while. The odd thing is that the movie never really loses its momentum, despite the tonal shift. When the jokes come back, they are still funny. There's no warm up. We're just back.
To contrast all of this is the "Hotel Chevalier" stuff. It's really cool, but I have a love/hate relationship with it. It is remarkably sexual and slightly exploitative. I see why it is separated from the main movie. Tonally, it is a different movie. I guess a lot of this is the juxtaposition between France and India. It is awesome in terms of character stuff. I love Jack as the nonfiction writer, but it also explains the person he is fleeing. Natalie Portman is aggressive and I suppose that's fine. But part of me thinks that the entirety of "Hotel Chevalier" is supposed to be shocking. It is a microcosm of Wes Anderson and I don't know if it is accurate to what he does in his other works. A lot of Anderson's characters are selfish jerks and Chevalier does a lot to support that idea. Jack is mean in that scene. He's a bitter jerk and Natalie Portman doesn't offer a lot that is redeeming in that sequence. But the entire scene is kind of essential, despite what I just said. There's one line towards the end of Darjeeling Limited where Peter comments that he likes how mean Jack is. It's almost like Peter is allowed to watch the Wes Anderson movie that we all got to see. I guess there is another moment that acts like "Hotel Chevalier" and it is almost more effective. It parallels "Chevalier" because it is another sequence from Jack's writing. The flashback to the Luftwaffe Garage is just this moment that encapsulates what I think about Wes Anderson. It's pretty great and the smash cut / match cut to that sequence is absolutely gorgeous. It's pretty fun.
I'm sorry, but I can't hate on The Darjeeling Limited. It might be one of my favorite Wes Anderson movies. I know. I'm alone on this one. But between the complex characters and the amazing use of setting, I adore this film. Wait, why am I apologizing for saying I like something? It's harder to defend than it is to attack. I'm good with loving this movie. It's pretty great.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.