I am ambivalent about Wes Anderson. I want to like him, because he is a thoughtful director who visibly cares about what he does, but he's also inconsistent. His movies are animated with many desires other than make the best movie he can and it's a big no-no when it comes to art, as far as I'm concerned. Anderson is one hell of a craftsman, but the artistic intent behind his movies often leave me puzzled. He also looks like Tilda Swinton's little brother, but that's beside the point. If you're going to skim to the end of this review and tell me to watch MOONRISE KINGDOM or make an angry comment because you liked MOONRISE KINGDOM and never watched THE DARJEELING LIMITED, please don't. I'm aware MOONRISE KINGDOM is probably great, but this is about THE DARJEELING LIMITED, which exacerbated all my contradictory feelings about Wes Anderson. I wanted to like it, more than it wanted me to.
It's the story of three brothers, Francis (Wilson), Peter (Brody) and Jack (Schwatzman), who reunite one year after their father's funeral for a bonding, spiritual trip through India, onboard a train called The Darjeeling Limited. Their personalities couldn't be any more different. Francis is a control freak, who orders for his brothers at the restaurant, Peter is the tormented one and Jack is the blooming artist. They don't trust each other and Francis is the only one of all three, who really wants to be there. But all three are severely depressed and all need this trip to heal. Onboard and beyond the train, they will face their demons on the way to potential reconciliation. It sounds like a textbook Hollywoodian coming-of-age movie said like that, but trust me, it's not.
Here's my hypothesis on the inception of THE DARJEELING LIMITED. I think it was Wes Anderson's "India movie". It's a unique, colorful country and nobody quite exploited this aspect like Anderson did in THE DARJEELING. Sure, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a gorgeous movie about India, but it's shot like the psychotronic nightmare of a meth-head DJ who's being brainwashed Clockwork-Orange style. Anderson's movie is a lot more contemplative. The shots are long and slow moving. There is silence where it needs to be. The Indian landscapes are the showstopper in THE DARJEELING LIMITED. Scenes like where the brothers go to the market or assist a funeral are gorgeous. There are also random slow motion shots scattered throughout which were a little pointless but beautiful.
On an aesthetic level, I don't have a quarrel with THE DARJEELING LIMITED. On the narrative side, it's a different story. First of all, it's a comedic film that's not really funny. I may have smiled three or four times, but comedy is an art that relies on rhythm and pacing and this movie has very little. Incompetent writing is not the cause here, but rather the conflict with the contemplative nature of the movie. The attempts at humor end up grotesquely clashing with the complex, well-crafted shots Anderson creates. Also, I'm aware many directors attempt to challenge the Hollywoodian storytelling clichés by crafting stories that are more realistic than dramatic and this movie gets carried away at times with its challenge of conventional structures. It goes in so many directions, there's nothing really to invest yourself in, as a spectator.
THE DARJEELING LIMITED is a beautiful movie, with too much ambition for its own good, which makes it a flagship for Wes Anderson's career. I wanted to like it, but it's a movie that's in love with its well-crafted shots and its wits more than I'll ever be. Saying I disliked it would be false, but it was a disappointment. Wes Anderson's enthusiasts rest assured, I WILL watch MOONRISE KINGDOM at some point, but THE DARJEELING LIMITED was a jarring enough experience to keep me away from his other movies for a while. I am still ambivalent about Wes Anderson. Now, more than ever. He has obvious talent behind the camera, but he doesn't do everything well. I'd be curious to see him film a novel adaptation, see what he can do with somebody else's material. Anderson is his worst enemy when he's given total creative control.