As a fan of Wes Anderson, I’m always quick to defend his films against those who say he’s all style over substance. Sure, he has a ton of style but there’s also a sense of whimsy and childlike innocence to his films that make for a total submersion into the cinemascapes he creates. Granted, he has been steadily walking the fence between “”one trick pony” and genius over his last two films so I had some trepidation coming into his latest, “”The Darjeeling Limited.” Would Anderson break free of the near live-animated world he strictly adheres to or would the claims that he’s so wrapped up in these zany worlds that he forgets to give his characters life come true?
I mean, why is it such a “”bad” thing that Wes Anderson movies look like “”typical Wes Anderson” movies? It’s a style people! What next, Ken Burns focuses too much on America and not other countries? M. Night Shyamalan has too many twists in his films? It’s what these people do and hats off to them for staying true to their muse and pursuing the auteur yearnings that are so lacking in today’s films. However having seen “”The Darjeeling Limited,” my hopes that Anderson would pull himself back from the edge of insignificance were quickly dashed.
As Film Threat’s own Mark Bell pointed out so perfectly in his review of the film, “”The film is emotionally void; blank. The characters may have quirks (none interesting), but nothing else going for them.” Exactly. And I’ll even take that point further by saying it’s now clear to me that Wes Anderson is trapped in a kind of”¦youthful quicksand. He’s unable to add any depth or realism to his characters because I feel he hasn’t experienced enough of life to adequately portray these people as living, breathing characters. As such, his films more and more become the equivalent of puppet shows put on by a grown man-child. To write about life and relationships and death…you have to live. Wes Anderson keeps going back to the idea of characters who are stunted in life because he’s stunted. It’s why “”Rushmore” is the ultimate for him, it IS him. “”Rushmore” is Anderson’s Rushmore.
I can’t tell you how much it pains me to say that as I consider all of Anderson’s films prior to “”The Darjeeling Limited” amongst my favorites, and “”Darjeeling” is by no means a terrible film. But all the issues people have had with his films over the years became crystallized and clear to me in this latest effort. I feel the puppet show analogy is apt because as kids, the best part of making a puppet show was creating funny characters and trying to entertain people. The show, at least from the child performers perspective, is the least fun and important aspect of the whole thing. They may tell a good story and look cool, but there’s really nothing more to them. The same is true of Wes Anderson’s films. Rather than show genuine emotion, Anderson relies on the cool visuals or the ambiguous comment to detract from the fact his characters are simply that: characters. They have little root in realistic human feelings.
In the world of Anderson, people who are troubled must smoke cigarettes. Sex is something to be handled heavy handedly, grossly and aggressively. I mean, obviously the sex attempts in “”Rushmore” are that of a clumsy adolescent but attempts at sex in all his films share a sophomoric quality of one ill-informed in the ways of intercourse or even simple cross gender relations. This has never been more true than in the awkward sex scene (between two consenting adults no less) in “”The Darjeeling Limited.”
Defenders of Anderson point out that he deals with heavy subjects like suicide and death in “”The Royal Tennenbaums” and “”The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” and he does. Anderson also includes a death scene in “”The Darjeeling Limited” but that one made me realize how surface and visual Anderson is with these issues rather than emotional or deep. Sure, the scenes are visually jarring and they catch you off guard, but they really serve no purpose to the story and upon further inspection strike me as purely cinematic moments that are nothing more than “”movie deaths.” The suicide attempt by Richie Tennenbaum is upsetting because Anderson sets the mood and catches you off guard with the act. But he’s been trying to equal that faux-power ever since and it’s consistently fallen flat, making you realize just how much Anderson doesn’t understand life.
The prime example of this is the “”WTF?” death of Ned Plimpton in “”Life Aquatic” which had as much character insight and deep meaning as a turd in a punchbowl. The death scene in “”Darjeeling Limited” also arrives with a sudden water related death but the commentary by Adrian Brody’s character Peter when he fails to save a young Indian boy speaks volumes. As he carries the dead body of the boy from the river he says, “”I couldn’t save mine.” As if this living, breathing child is nothing more than a pet squirrel or a piece of homework blown away in the wind.
It does feel cathartic to feel like I “”get” the lesser side of Anderson’s work, but it’s also frustrating because I want his films to climb the ladder and be more than they are. If I were writing about a guy who just made his fifth feature by age thirty and was continuing to grow, it would feel so much better than watching a talented director with five features at age thirty seven stuck in a rut. Rather than “”get better” at his craft, Anderson chooses to dress like a castoff from sixties French cinema and immerse himself in these worlds he designs so meticulously. Sadly, rather than be an inspirational, creative world for Anderson to live in and grow, he’s designing beautifully distracting “”Never Never Lands” to hide in and never grow up in.