Darjeeling Limited is now open for discussion

Our November 2007 film selection, Darjeeling Limited, is now open for discussion. Members who would like to Post an Official Commentary about this film are welcome to do so (Contact Ron or Roger if you would like to have posting privileges to this blogsite). Anyone, member or not, can place brief comments here by simply clicking on the comments button.


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    Welcome all to “Wes’s World”, a tight knit group of friends and collaborators that closely resembles a vaudevillian family, a traveling troupe of players, writers, producers, and directors. Director Wes Anderson is the vertex, the hub that all others gravitate toward and hover around. On the strength of just five films in ten years, Anderson has created a cinematic niche, a new genre –the “Wes Anderson Film”. He was only 26 years old when he and Owen Wilson made BOTTLE ROCKET, a 13 minute short. On the strength of that he was able to launch a project for BOTTLE ROCKET (1996), starring the Wilsons and other pals. RUSHMORE (1998) began to make his reputation, collaborating with Jason Schwartzman, and beginning his long association with Bill Murray, who was the only “name actor” in the piece. He, in part, based the story on his personal experiences at St. John’s School in Houston. He shot the film there. Anderson used to stage plays of his own direction on the stage at the Hoodwink Theatre. His next film was a blockbuster for him, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001). It did well both at the festivals and at the box office, garnering him an Oscar nomination for the writing. This allowed him a big budget to create THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004), which mostly floundered out there in search of an audience. It was seen as “a beautiful failure, a study in style stripped of substance.” At 38 years old he has directed THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007), and although a critical and festival success, it has not created boffo box office yet. He is working hard becoming a cinematic cousin to Jim Jarmusch, who directs films “his own way”, and to hell with the consequences. Presently Anderson is working on a stop-action animated film, FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009).

    His comic humanism has him compared to Francois Truffaut and Louis Malle. Early on Martin Scorsese became a fan, stating in an article for ESQUIRE that Anderson, “Will become the next Scorsese”. He corralled young Wes and sat him down for a screening of Jean Renior’s THE RIVER (1951). Anderson was inspired and set out to watch a lot of Indian cinema, especially those films of legendary director Satyajit Ray. He has stated that he made DARJEELING LIMITED (2007) as further proof of his fascination and inspiration. Further he dedicated the film to Ray’s memory, and rather than having an original musical score done for the movie, he “borrowed” original music from several Indian films, including some of Satyajit Ray’s.

    Now let’s see –Roman Coppola, a buddy of Anderson’s who is also brother to Sofia and son to Francis Ford, is a cousin to Jason Schwartzman, the star of Anderson’s RUSHMORE (1998) and Schwartzman in a moustache is a dead ringer for Luke Wilson –who along with his brother Owen Wilson are frequent Anderson collaborators and compadres. Add Coppola’s girlfriend, Jennifer Furches, along with Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston, and Ben Stiller –and we get a glimpse of the “Wes Anderson Stock Company”. Many of the great filmmakers have done things this way, John Wayne learning how to do it from mentor John Ford, Clint Eastwood learning how to do it from mentor Don Siegel. After all an artist certainly can “trust” his friends, can be himself with them.

    Last year, after an inspiration from Anderson, Schwartzman and Coppola and the young maverick director boarded a train in India, and traveled for a month scouting locations for and writing the screenplay of THE DARJEELING LIMITED. Anderson claimed that part of the idea for writing about three brothers came from a John Cassavetes film, HUSBANDS (1970).

    “My main idea was not the train, not India, not the brothers,” said Wes Anderson, “My main idea was –I want to write with Jason and Roman.”

    So Schwartzman had an apartment in Rome, after filming Sofia Coppola’s MARIE ANTONEITTE (2006). Wanting to get out of NYC after a decade there, Anderson came to Italy and “crashed” at Schwartzman’s apartment. Then for a time he and Jason were roommates. During that period he pulled out his notebook and laid out the bare bones plot of DARJEELING LIMITED, and the movie was “hatched on the spot”. They then recruited Roman, who lived there too, and their travels to India began. Per usual for Wes Anderson, coming to Italy he carried a suitcase with $14,000 in it, given to him by Bill Murray, “to give to Luigi, to cover rent for an apartment in Rome that Murray had used while filming THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE SISSOU (2004). This is the way things work in “Wes’s World”.

    Wes Anderson said, “I want to try not to repeat myself. But then I seem to do it continuously in my films. It’s not something I make any effort to do. I just want to make films that are personal, but still interesting to an audience. I feel that I get criticized for style over substance, and for details that get in the way of the characters. But every decision I make is how to bring those characters forward.” That said, Anderson takes more time to dress a set than perhaps any director this side of Peter Greenaway.

    The plot of the film gave us the three Whitman brothers, Francis, Peter, and Jack, estranged for a year after their father’s funeral, which had been run down by a NYC taxi driver and met a gruesome untimely demise. The brothers were reunited in India, cajoled into coming by the eldest, Francis (Owen Wilson). Francis got his siblings to come by convincing them that this trip was their chance to reconnect as brothers, to be “close –like we used to be.” The middle brother, Peter (Adrien Brody), joined them even though his wife was expecting their first child. He traveled wearing his father’s oversized sunglasses, even though the prescription was wrong for him. Later we discover he is carrying the father’s razor. All three boys carry their father’s 11 pieces of ornate leather luggage, hand carved and expensive. The youngest brother, Jack (Jason Schwartzman), traveled shoeless and clueless, happy to be an aimless shiftless Lothario wherever he went. Days into the trip Francis revealed that mostly the point of their adventure would be to find and reunite with their mother (Anjelica Huston). She had not attended her husband’s funeral because she “didn’t want to.” She had escaped to a remote part of India, to a convent temple, and was more than willing to completely give herself to Jesus, to a higher power, and care for dozens of ragamuffin orphans –but she had no time for her own prodigy, no time for the real world.

    Francis: (spotting some children crossing a river) Look at those assholes.

    Jack: What did he say?
    Peter: He said the train was lost.
    Jack: How can a train be lost? It’s on rails.
    Jack: I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life; not as brothers, but as people.

    Repeated line for all three brothers:
    Jack: Let’s go have a drink and smoke a cigarette.

    I had come to see a Wes Anderson film –some kind of intellectual comedy that would be born out of sadness, a dysfunctional family struggling to function in an impartial world, something cleverly written, full of wry wit, absurdity, burlesque and vaudeville pranks and pratfalls, with characters who feel lost, consumed with their journeys that transport them first nowhere and then somewhere. After an hour of small smiles and tiny chuckles, enjoying and applauding Anderson’s use of Marx Brother’s manic moves, Three Stooges silliness, slow motion scenes, wide angle vistas, and a clever use of music –I suddenly found myself laughing aloud, and my cheeks were wet with tears. It happened somewhere in the story after the funeral of the drown child. This literary and cinematic territory, so wonderfully traveled in THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001) –was refined for this film, and better focused. Inexplicably Wes Anderson found a way to touch my emotions, to pressure me into some semblance of identifying with the characters, those wealthy misfits, products of a fractured family; no mean feat for a blue collar kid like myself.

    Nathan Lee of THE VILLAGE VOICE wrote, “I was moved by DARJEELING, flaws and all, but if my job is to explain why, I find it difficult for reasons that are none of my business. From the minute Owen Wilson walks on screen, face covered in scars, eyes full of trouble, DARJEELING is warped by the gravitas of his recent suicide attempt. Anderson and Wilson are old friends and frequent collaborators, of course, and it’s hard not to sense them working through more than one impasse here.”

    Making money does not seem to be a problem for Wilson. Since 2000 he has earned over 50 million dollars working on 7 films. Romantically he was previously linked with Demi Moore, Sheryl Crow, and more recently with actress Kate Hudson. They broke up in May 2007. He might have still been despondent over that.

    I read where Owen Wilson did make it to the DARJEELING premiere opening on October 4, 2007, but there certainly was a pale shadow over Anderson at the Venice Film Festival. Speaking about Wilson, Wes Anderson said, “He’s never had a time like this in his life before. His life has changed so radically in the last few years, and in ways that most people never have to deal with. He is one of the funniest, smartest guys I have ever known, one of my best friends in the world. I know I have been depressed myself before –most of us probably know something about what it’s like. I went to see him in LA, and you know, he’s doing very well. He’s going to be fine. I call him every day to keep him updated on what’s happening with the movie. I wish he was with us. He is a major part of our project, and he has the right to be there with us.”

    Owen Wilson was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica on August 26, 2007 after a “reported” suicide attempt at his Santa Monica home. According to the Santa Monica Police Department log, Wilson “allegedly” slashed his wrists and took an overdose of pills. Transferring to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his condition went from serious to good and then to stable. They sent him home where he stayed “under constant supervision” for a week or so.

    At one point, Wilson issued a statement, “I respectfully ask that the media allow me to receive care and heal in private during this difficult time.”

    For me this film is a book end, a companion piece to THE TENENBAUMS –two somewhat parallel related plots about privileged families, whose individual members all struggle with the lack of parental guidance and love, and struggle against the influence of parental neglect and absence in their lives; trapped in their situation, fighting for their freedom. This is certainly not a tight film, nor a perfect film, but its jagged edges– colored and back dropped with the immensity and magic of Mother India, are miraculously pulled closer together as the boys “let go of their baggage.”

    Glenn Buttkus 2007

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