Darjeeling Limited Hits the Shelves
The Darjeeling Limited, which comes out on DVD February 26, along with its small prologue, Hotel Chevalier, submerges the audience in another of Wes Anderson’s bittersweet, pop-song loving, infinitely stylized works. He has plenty of tricks up his sleeve: repeated use of color patterning, slow-motion rock song moments, ridiculously gorgeous sets and, of course, the plot.
It is a story about three brothers recovering from the death of their father, three people who are very different, but are able to rediscover the emotional connection they share. The characters double-talk each other constantly, and reconcile only after mutual distrust, anger and — because this is a Wes Anderson film — humor. Odd and clever, yet typical incidents and pratfalls unfold for the brothers as they march through an intangible, yet color-perfect India in excellent attire with a garrulous array of luggage.
Anderson’s interest in color palettes dominates the film visually. While the characters often wear regular clothes. This contrast adds to the effect. Yellow and blue seem to be everywhere — on people, on buildings, on the train itself. Reds are the less common moving entities on camera. Anderson frequently has his lead trio of actors wear grayish suits — leading to two juxtaposed funeral scenes, one in which they wear all white, and one in which they wear all black.
Musically, Anderson employs rock song set pieces, here using songs from The Kinks’ Lola versus Powerman and the Money-go-round, Part One such as “This Time Tomorrow” as well as the Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire.”
He shows his love of almost self-contained, distinctly separated sequences, which seem to allow Hotel Chevalier, the two funeral scenes and a “surreal train” to coexist, while still channeling them toward a central point.
He also uses numerous famous melodies from older Indian feature films, employing incidental music by Satyajit Ray, an Indian film director.
However, exquisitely designed and decorated sets and beautiful locales aside, this is about as Indian as this film gets. It is, in some ways, a spring break for whitey in some less-than-completely modern country. The “locals” themselves almost never have any strong presence and instead are plot devices — the shoeshine boy who steals shoes, the cobra dealer, Old Boy the mule driver. The only two non-white people who escape this are Rita (Amara Karan) and, to a lesser extent, the Chief Steward (Waris Ahluwalia).
While not tantamount to racism, it’s more that Darjeeling features a very old and lame problem — that the India in the film is simply of the author’s imagination. And while I don’t wish for Anderson to take us to the Taj Mahal (as Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson did at the Apollo this week), he could have provided a more convincing portrayal of the people, their mysticism and the geography covered.
If it’s not a spring break of sorts, the movie is about as uninformed and disinterested in what India has to offer as the Beatles were during their visit to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who passed away last week.) This India is trendy, but isn’t bound to have a profound influence on almost any of their lives directly. It could be happening anywhere.
What is exciting, though, is that despite these problems, the story Anderson tells is a compelling one, and that (according to some people) is what narrative-based movies are about.