You’re in an Indian marketplace, a sea of color and chaos, where taxis wail through crowds and jam-packed side streets and the air is nearly electric with chaos. Reds, oranges, blues and yellows swirl around you as you rocket past pedestrians.
Moments later, you’re in a makeshift and shoddy train station, running alongside a panting Bill Murray, hearing only a classic Kinks tune as he is outrun and out-maneuvered by the lean and lanky Adrian Brody in a fit of sluggish, graceful flailing.
The end result, of course, is a trademark sensory overload of sight and sound as only a Wes Anderson slow motion moment can bring you.
And “The Darjeeling Limited,” Anderson’s latest, spares no senses and takes audiences captive with its on-location-in-India visuals and melancholy plot of three estranged brothers who travel to India on the titular train.
The Whitman brothers, played charismatically and stylishly by Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Anderson-newbie Adrian Brody, are all at a crossroads – with each other as well as in their “not-as-brothers-but-as-people” lives.
While the comically and metaphorically bandage-clad Wilson is recovering from a near-fatal motorcycle crash, Schwartzman is slowly nursing himself through the end of a desperate relationship, checking his ex-girlfriend’s answering machine at every stop they make. While Brody winces at the mention of his unborn child, afraid that a kid will only complicate his marriage if he ever wants divorce, their mother, played by a mysterious Angelica Houston, is still running from her husband’s funeral as a nun who never looks back.
To add insult to the Whitmans’ injuries and issues, of which there are plenty, all four are painfully still mourning their father’s death that occurred over a year ago. Brody wears sunglasses that still hold his father’s prescription, Schwartzman dedicates his books to their late dad and Wilson asks if he raised the brothers himself in some small way.
This vulnerability echoes throughout the film like the whistle on the train itself, from Schwartzman’s collection of short stories he refuses to admit are based on the Whitmans and their situations verbatim, to the moment Wilson removes his bandages in front of his brothers and softly states, “I guess I’ve still got a lot of healing to do.”
But the Whitman struggle is just as endearing as it is sad, typically comical in its innocence. Anderson’s dry and often dark sense of humor is just as resonant here as it ever was, and between a hilarious sibling pepper spray fight and the unintentional release of Brody’s pet poisonous snake, “Darjeeling” reaches an emotional equilibrium, perfectly balanced.
While some might be frustrated by the film’s lethargic pacing, details between a dramatic few plot points set the Whitman family’s quarrels and the unpredictability of India against one another for a chaotic, dynamic change from the bang-up, smash-up, one-dimensional films that have been polluting, sorry, hitting theatres near you.
But aren’t all of Anderson’s films about family unhappiness? Isn’t this getting old?
The answer is yes. And then no.
If his style and format bother you, maybe it’s time to truly understand the Anderson universe. If unhappiness isn’t the largest artistic well to draw from, what is?
Nothing in an Anderson film is more earnest, heartbreaking and realistic than pain, family and the ever-present feeling of misplacement. If “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Rushmore” weren’t enough to cement the importance of detail and character-driven plotlines into you, look for the trademark intricacies throughout his latest.
Look for the incredible soundtrack – in this case, fueled largely by music from inspirational foreign films and The Kinks – and the bright contrast in colors. Look for incredible performances so detailed that an expressive scene sans words comes across as thought provoking and painful in a matter of seconds. And finally, look for incredible cinematography with well-balanced shots and the small, intricate details and expressions that each character clues the audience in on, like a gift to the viewers who go that extra cinema mile.
Look for all of these – I promise, they’re all there.
To optimize your Anderson experience, don’t miss the film’s 13-minute-long prologue, “Hotel Chevalier,” which stars Natalie Portman as Schwartzman’s obsessive love interest (or disinterest). Though the short is no longer available through iTunes, you can catch it before all North American screenings of “Darjeeling” beginning Oct. 26. And Anderson’s detailed, vibrant trademarks?
But of course, they’re all there too.