Wes Anderson Goes to India; I Stay Home

The following two paragraphs from A.O. Scott encapsulate pretty well why I’m not rushing out to see The Darjeeling Limited:

“The Darjeeling Limited” amounts finally to a high-end, high-toned tourist adventure. I don’t mean this dismissively; it would be hypocritical of me to deny the delights of luxury travel to faraway lands. And Mr. Anderson’s eye for local color — the red-orange-yellow end of the spectrum in particular — is meticulous and admiring.

But humanism lies either beyond his grasp or outside the range of his interests. His stated debt to “The River,” Jean Renoir’s film about Indian village life, and his use of music from the films of Satyajit Ray represent both an earnest tribute to those filmmakers and an admission of his own limitations. They were great directors because they extended the capacity of the art form to comprehend the world that exists. He is an intriguing and amusing director because he tirelessly elaborates on a world of his own making. (link)

Are people planning to stand in line for this one? I’m not; after four quirky films (and one amusing AmEx commercial), I’m bored of Wes Anderson’s whole approach to filmmaking, which I call “quirky for quirky’s sake.” It’s not that quirky is always bad; I found Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, for instance, pretty compelling — and that was a damn quirky film. But I often feel like Wes Anderson’s approach to filmmaking is to simply think, “wouldn’t it be funny if the old Indian manservant stabbed Bill Murray with a pen-knife at this point?” And then do it, just for the excitement that comes with absurdity.

And as much as I was intrigued by Anderson’s use of Waris Ahluwalia in The Life Aquatic (he’s credited in Darjeeling Limited as well), the non-speaking part in that film made the striking Ahluwalia into a sort of exotic turbaned curiosity. Ahluwalia’s role in Spike Lee’s Inside Man, though brief, was much more provocative and engaging. Even if audiences didn’t sympathize with Ahluwalia’s character as much as one would have liked, at least that role led to a meaningful reaction.

Incidentally, there is another travel film with India as a destination coming out. Though from the review, Outsourced does seem to flirt a bit with cliches, I’m much more interested in it than I am in Darjeeling at present.

38 thoughts on “Wes Anderson Goes to India; I Stay Home

  1. er… Wes Anderson makes me laugh. I fall completely for the quirkiness. It did bother me a bit though that ‘Pagoda’ was left out of the DVD cover for The Royal Tennenbaums even though he had a major role in it. But then that’s probably a marketing decision the studio made. I think A.O. Scott is right in saying that humanism probably lies outside his range of interests. But so what? We don’t go to see a Wes Anderson picture for its humanism. While he’s not Renoir or Ray, he is Anderson. And yes I am standing in line.

  2. Outsourced surprisingly, doesn’t flirt with cliches as much as I expected it to! Sure they are there, but many of them are at least original cliches (if thats even possible) that I haven’t been yet bored with in other similar types of films. Therefore, while its not a spectacular film I rate Outsourced as “timepass.”

  3. If you like, traditionally, coherent plots, linear story lines and easy-to-bracket characters, then of course, Wes Anderson is not for you. “Rushmore” is a mini-classic coming-to-age movie…it, perhaps, did not make sense if you try to situate the characters in conventional ideas of storylines but it spoke a truth, even if that truth was something that was only in our head (the leitmotif of the movie of an overachieving kid trying for acceptance by doing everything is something that we all think of, especially when we’re younger, when we’re trying to fit in).

    I think Darjeeling Limited is maybe the most awaited small movie for the desi “bhailog” & “babylog” in quite a while, though AO Scott’s point is also well taken.

  4. Ok, so I haven’t seen any of his films (ducks and covers), but I think it’s interesting there was also an article on Slate with the same general feeling about Anderson’s movies and particularly The Darjeeling Limited.

    But I have seen The River and I have to say it’s pretty good! But I may just go see this movie out of curiosity.

  5. i couldn’t stand watching more than the first half hour of Life Aquatic, if that, and didn’t finish the film out of sheer boredom. so can’t really judge. but if this film is remotely like that, guess i won’t be watching. will wait for it to come to cable. i did read the slate piece and without watching the film, it’s hard to judge whether the review was harsh or not. however, i did think the reviewer seemed to see orientalism/exoticization in everything, going by some of the scenes he described.

    and “The River” is a good movie, but marred by some stilted acting, but you can forgive that because i think they were amateurs and not professional actors.

  6. Dvd rental. Would like to see it on HD though.

    Over the next 5 years expect a lot more films to be coming out low budget levels as HD cameras with high resolution break the $20K mark. Already some of the new RED cameras are in India being used.

    Can’t wait to see the colors with these 4K cameras. Exciting!

  7. I think Wes Anderson is hilarious. Although Amardeep I think your points are certainly valid. I personally like absurd situations, and if they lead to comedy then even better. I think Bottle Rocket was one of the funniest movies, even though it can be a bit slow. As far as his use of desi’s as curiosities, I think you are right. Although I enjoy the films so much I kind of dismiss it for no real reason. I guess I think that some from the West probobly still view India, and its people as the exotic jewel, and never get deeper than that. I think all of his characters are heavily flawed, and this is probobly just one more to the bunch. So Im standing in line too.

  8. They were great directors because they extended the capacity of the art form to comprehend the world that exists.

    This is a beautiful line, and encapsulates so much of what makes Satyajit Ray so great.

  9. Keralite,

    But isn’t this the movie where natalie portman does a nekkid scene?

    spoken like a true keralite :P

  10. Jeez, is A.O.S. a wimp or what? If he didn’t like the movie why doesn’t he come out and say so? Instead of all the semi-allowances he makes for touchy feely film making.

  11. I’ll see it for Owen Wilson, and expect to be amused and irritated. Keral;ite, the thirteen minute forerunner called

    Hotel Chevalier

    with Natalie Portman nekkid is at the iTunes Store for free.

  12. His stated debt to “The River,” Jean Renoir’s film about Indian village life,

    WTH!! I went to see ‘The River’ expecting a decent movie. The movie to me was not at all great, it seemed like a mish mash of documentary interspersed with fiction and the two did not seem to fit in well at all. There was hardly any story/plot per se (though I believe that was not the intent anyways), the acting was terrible and except a few scenes of the river, don’t remember the cinematography being that noteworthy either. The score was Indian enough though nothing special. Plus there were occasions when I felt Renoir had not grasped the subtleties behind the customs and culture he was trying to show. But then, my white friend liked the movie and I am not a film critic and so what do I know..

  13. Shucks, that was beyond typos– sorry Keralite, that was meant to link to a piece about Hotel Chevalier. Worth downloading at iTunes just for the once megahit Peter Sarstedt song from way too long ago for you to remember…

    • indian man servant stabbing older white man (master) – might be referencing pagoda’s deed in the royal tenenbaums (he knifes and saves royal in calcutta 30 years back) and again later on in the film.

    cross referencing and call back is pretty norm in plot extension. anderson is a curious filmmaker. and im lining up too.

  14. I am a sucker for Wes Anderson movies – about the only movies where Luke Wilson actually has some sort of a personality instead of being the bland boyfriend of some big heroine.

    My favorite was Rushmore because I related to some facets of that strange kid. I actually wanted to do a similar kind of play as a kid where things explode on stage.

  15. I think that Owen Wilson co-writing The Royal Tenenbaums is particularly telling. The descent of Richie is painful and strangely on point.

  16. I wonder if the real Darjeeling even figures in the film, all the promos I’ve seen show mostly Rajasthanish scenery. I hope its not called Darjeeling Express just cause its such a kick ass name.

  17. re #13: no, you’re mostly right about “The River.” But despite all those shortcomings, I did find it watchable. I think in some ways because Renoir doesn’t impose himself and his views too much on the movie and seems content to let the scenes speak for themselves, so it does come across as perhaps him not understanding all the nuances of indian life. this also results in slow pacing and , which is meant to reflect the flow of the river and life along it. nothing spectacular, just day-in, day-out life. it sort of has a lulling effect.

  18. Wes’ movies are the opposite of slapstick. For some reason, people think that having a few absurd situations make it funny. His humor is called “lo key” which to me is boooring. I enjoyed Rushmore immensely and it still has a charm to it. Royal T was funny at the time too. Ofcourse, it had some heavy comic hitters at the peak of their form (owen and luke are insufferable now and the less said abt stiller the better).

    I watched Zissou for curiosity’s sake (on DVD) and there is one beuatiful shot, a great marvel of production design early on when they are building the ship. I could not watch that movie after that. I expect this movie to be much the same. Boring and lame.

    Soon Hollywood will realize that it is not 1996 and that his movies don’t make money and the next time he will actually need a script that has some jokes in it before someone cuts him a check for $50MM. He made Royal for $20MM and the movie grossed $50 MM, so the beancounters figured if they gave him $50 MM, it would make $100 MM at least right? Wrong. $24 MM! I hope all the people that greenlit Zissou got fired. But they would have said…look at Royal T. How were we to know? They are probably busy scrounging up $25 MM for Baumbach.

    http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=lifeaquatic.htm

  19. 19 I think you are quite right in terms of the pace of the movie and river flow in terms of their mellowness. It was probably deliberate on Renoir’s part and now that I think of it more, that was one thing I actually liked. As for the nuances, yes he has taken a detached view which I guess should be appreciated but there were a couple of scenes (it’s been a while and I don’t remember the scenes just the feeling after the movie) where he made interpretations (or an attempt at it) which seemed off the mark. Also, maybe I went in expecting something different which may have caused me to not appreciate some points. But yes, his intentions definitely seemed genuine.

  20. Sorry, but Wes Anderson + Jason Schwartzman + India = I’d like a new pair of underpants, please.

  21. i thought it would just be a matter of time before this was covered. like the bulk of the commentors, i enjoy wes anderson films for being wes anderson films. just as i enjoy woody allen films for being woody allen films. no matter how “bad” they are, i find something – and the quality here lies in the personality of the viewer – redemptive. the desi angle alone makes me nervous, but like the royal tenenbaums (and that great scene where royal is standing, blocking the statue of liberty,) i’m hoping it pays that similiar, subtle but vibrant portrait of another place we love.

  22. Wes Anderson is some kind of cross-cultural savant for picking the 1969 Peter Sarstedt song. Anglo-India, late 1960s, a time when hippies were pouring into India on overland buses from Europe, perfect for the theme of the longer part of the movie.

    Either that, or someone suggested it to him.

  23. I’ve enjoyed Wes Anderson’s films. I’m seeing this on Tuesday and will comment later.

  24. Rushmore is my favorite movie of all time, and Wes Anderson is a genius. I love every single one of his films and actually clapped and screamed when I heard he filmed his latest in the motherland. Incidentally, my cousin saw that lovely wilson boy in a cafe in Rajasthan while the movie was being filmed.

    I seriously cannot wait. I LOVE anything by this director and all the details in his films are unbelievable.

  25. So I did see “Darjeeling Ltd” last night and I did enjoy it. India seems to be more of a standard setting and did not seem exotified. The story was told well, in Anderson’s quirky way. I do recommend seeing it.

  26. Ok, a little late in the game here but hope I get a response. Was anyone else particularly affected by the Schwartzman/Amara situation? My heart almost broke in half when they did their thing in the bathroom the first time. I was ecstatic when she rejected him the second time (i actually did a fist pump and said “yess”, before realizing i was in a crowded theater and slinked back in my chair). I’m not sure what i felt when she was crying in the end. I thought Amara Karan’s character was absolutely gorgeous and had this air of dignity about her and strength. It wasn’t that she was having sex that bothered me. It was that she was having sex with a goofy, pathetic white guy with no particularly noteworthy qualities. That an absolutely normal white guy (in fact, a goofy, pathetic white guy), who probably couldn’t get a beautiful white girl (mr. rushmore), could get a beautiful, strong, dignified indian girl just by virtue of being white and that a “smart” director like Wes Anderson knows this but isn’t particularly bothered by it nor really considers it something that he has to worry that others would be bothered by because society is so messed up and just needed to use her as a tool for Schwartzman’s obnoxious euro-centric character and Amara was willing to play that role. I felt better with her reaction when he came around the second time, because it revealed that maybe this wasn’t the case. Maybe it was her circumstance, being trapped on a train, that made her desperate and then she came to her senses. But then she started crying at the end when he left, and so i feel like it all depends on this one question. Why was she crying?

  27. I am a sucker for Wes Anderson movies – about the only movies where Luke Wilson actually has some sort of a personality instead of being the bland boyfriend of some big heroine.

    Good point Pravin.

    How can mainstream Hollywood let a jawline like that go to waste?

  28. Ardy – I agree with you 100% re: The River. I had the same experience – saw it at MoMA with a white friend, who was waxing poetic over it while I was laughing at how awful it was.

    Puregold – I have to say, I didn’t see that situation that way at all, but I guess I can see how one would. I thought she was crying because she had broken up with her boyfriend. I actually cringed when it first became clear that they were going to hook up, but I liked that 1) her character had some real depth and 2) she seemed to exert some control over the situation, instead of just being a stereotypical docile Asian woman who gets used by the white tourist guy. She was using him to get over someone just as much as he was using her. She owned her decisions and her sexuality and I thought she was great.

    I read the feminist article and I think the author makes some really good points. But I just felt that the film was a story being told from the perspective of the brothers, who are in serious introverted/soul-searching mode. It didn’t seem like it would make much sense for the peripheral characters to play a major role if the main storyline was about their familial relationships. And he’s writing from a place that he knows – the world of the white guy traveling in India. As an Indian person, I was satisfied with his portrayal of India – not overly reverential, not cheesy, not stereotypical, not racist – it just felt honest. And we don’t have to love his POV but it’s his POV and he’s entitled to it.

    Anyway, thanks for posting about the film! I personally loved it.

  29. just saw this movie…and thoroughly enjoyed it! more so for the relationship between the 3 brothers. you folks with siblings will be able to appreciate the nuances of sibling relationships… also enjoyed the indian background as well…the especially thorough walk through the 3rd class compartments to a/c, first class, sleeper car… v. good movie.

  30. 32 maybe she was crying b/c he was able to get off the train and she wasn’t! she was trapped there, and had expressed the desire in an early scene of needing to get off of the train.

    yes, yes, i know am a little late in the game here :) but i just saw the movie and recall this post, but did not pay attention b/c i had not yet seen the movie….