Sunday, October 14, 2007

Thank You India: The Trail vs. The Darjeeling Ltd.

Full disclosure: I am not the world's largest Wes Anderson fan, probably for the same reason I can't hang around indie kids for too long: they're so busy being artsy they lose sight of things like, I don't know, coherence.

That said, Rushmore was still pretty good, and The Royal Tennenbaums is now sitting in the DVD library, brought back from Windsor and awaiting a perusal.

The Lady and I caught a matinee of Anderson's latest effort, The Darjeeling Ltd. this weekend, and to put it briefly, I'm still not convinced. But first, a story.

Sometime within the last decade a friend's cousin decided to to go get spiritual and work at an orphanage in India. Upon his arrival, he became intoxicated with his surroundings and felt deeply touched on a spiritual level. He wanted more, he wanted to obliterate himself in Eastern exoticism. He noticed the Ganges river nearby and headed off for it. He gradually picked up speed until he was running full bore towards it. He was pulling his short off when one of the locals stepped in front of him and put his hands up.

"What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm going to go bathe in the Ganges," he said.
"No, you're not," said the stranger.
"Why not? It's the holy river, I want to experience it."
"Look," said the stranger, "that river is filled with shit and dead bodies. You do not want to go swimming in the Ganges river."
My friend's cousin paused for a moment, and agreed.

I once saw this sort of thinking referred to as the "Thank You, India" syndrome. Affluent to middle class, spiritually lacking Westerners hop a plane for somewhere exotic, looking for a deeper meaning in the other, only to discover that other place is much more complex than they considered.

If there's one thing The Darjeeling Ltd. does well, it's depict this syndrome. The three brothers, abandoned by parents who either died or just flaked out, convene on a train in India at elder brother Francis' request. Francis has recently been in a traffic accident that's left him bruised and bloodied, but with a new appreciation for all life's mysteries and a desire to reconnect with his siblings. Which of course doesn't happen, despite all the care Francis and his beleaguered assistant Brendan put into the carefully plotted, laminated daily itinerary. Of course, it's not until they abandon trying to find any sort of enlightenment that it falls into their laps, via some deus ex machina summoned out of nowhere.

The film looks beautiful. The camera angles are inventive at times, and the colours are lshush and deep. But I don't know that pretty colours and interesting camera angles are enough to sustain a 2-hour movie. Says the guy who's sat through countless hours of meandering Japanese cinema.

Viewer's note: despite the very polite request at the movie's start to watch the short film Hotel Chevalier, Canadian viewers are out of luck, as it's only available through iTunes, and the American store at that. So if you want to see it, you'll have to go hunting. Though I really don't know how much light it'll shed.

In the theme of X-Play, The Darjeeling Limited gets a three and a half............out of five. The half is for letting me know one of my favourite pieces of unknown music is Alexis Weissenberg's version of Debussy's Claire de Lune. So thanks for that.

See you Monday.


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