Friday, October 12, 2007
Anderson picks up the story of the Whitman brothers in The Darjeeling Limited as Francis (Owen Wilson) has called the siblings together a year after their father's death. Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack dutifully come when called, even though the estranged brothers apparently haven't communicated since the funeral. Francis wants an emotional reunion that will bring the family together like they used to be. In order to achieve this, he has planned a journey through India during which they will seek spiritual enlightenment and seek out new experiences "even if they are shocking and painful." What he's not telling them is that he also plans a reunion with their mother (Anjelica Huston) who has joined a religious order in a remote region of India.
Anderson continues to examine damaged lives with whimsy, humor and bittersweet compassion. No matter how serious the themes get, Anderson and company keep the tone deceptively light. He manages to take the brothers' spiritual journey seriously yet he maintains the ability to also see the silliness. At one point Francis says of the locals, "They're laughing at us," and then he adds with delight, "I love it here." Anderson understands the cliche of these young Americans coming to India and literally dodging the sacred cows in the street. But even though it's a cliche, it's also something that holds something very real for the brothers and the experience of being in a foreign country has a tangible impact on their lives.
Jack makes his move on the sweet lime girl (Fox Searchlight)
The film, written by Anderson along with Schwartzman and his cousin Roman Coppola, captures the way brothers behave. There's both an intimacy of having grown up together and the distance of having since grown apart. We see how they quickly fall into old habits, behaviors and dialogue when they reunite. Being a family unit is something like riding bike -- you never forget how what to do and that includes how to irritate each other. The film conveys a real sense of family, not a perfect sense, but rather the way families can interact, the different way people show love and concern and the desire to keep those connections.
At one point, the train they are riding gets "lost." The idea of a train that runs on tracks getting lost provides a delightful metaphor for the Whitman family. Francis ponders where his family has come and wonders how they drifted so far apart when they started out on the same track together. Anderson's relaxed style of shooting allows many scenes to play out without edits and in shots that confine all three brothers within the frame. The image reflects the claustrophobic space of the train but also forces the brothers back into close proximity with each other. And the long takes give the film a more naturalistic style so we feel that we have really entered into their lives.
Wilson, a creative partner with Anderson since their first film Bottle Rocket , is perfect as Francis, who's physically as well as emotionally damaged. It's a role that may oddly tap into the real life media attention he's been getting for his apparent recent suicide attempt. But Wilson's casual, self-deprecating style is a perfect fit for Anderson's film. Schwartzman, who debuted in Anderson's brilliant Rushmore, excels as well. Brody, making his first appearance in an Anderson film, slides into the family unit with ease. All three convince us that they could be brothers. Huston's brief appearance as their mother is compelling and fills in details in the family portrait.
The Whitman boys... The Darjeeling Limited (Fox Searchlight)
Anderson also benefits from a crack creative and design team. Production designer Mark Friedberg makes exquisite use of soft colors within the train while cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman endows the film with a bright but dusty glow. The film has visual appeal and finds humor in how it frames the characters within their exotic local. Anderson and company also manage to convey both a real India (lurking on the periphery of the frame and the story) and the India that the Whitman boys are experiencing, which is not quite of the real world. The one point where the two worlds intersect involves the death of a child, and the real world puts the Whitman's journey into perspective, showing what things are really important.
The Darjeeling Limited (rated R for language) may not have the tight focus and more careful construction of Rushmore (which may be my favorite Anderson film). But it is a charmer that also finds bittersweet emotional resonances. Anderson's gift is his ability to make us care about his flawed characters and to convey their story with both sincere compassion and an ironic sense of humor about their imperfections. And just a final note, Anderson serves up, as he has done in his other films, a wonderful and eclectic soundtrack of music and songs, including music from Satyajit Ray's films.
Companion viewing: Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The River, Days and Nights in teh Forest, Teen Kanya, Twentieth Century