The Darjeeling feeling
Wes Anderson’s offbeat style of filmmaking is definitely an acquired taste. Highly stylised – his saturated use of colour borders on the psychedelic – but with seemingly improvised dialogue, it is always hard to know how seriously to take his films. The Darjeeling Ltd epitomises this, combining the kind of tongue-in-cheek insincerity favoured by one of its protagonists – Owen Wilson – and the type of clichéd spiritual journey that would be almost impossible to take seriously anyway. Anderson mocks Wilson’s ridiculous attempts to bond with his brothers using (make-believe) karmic practises while romanticising India’s visual aesthetic. We are expected to laugh at Western tourists playing at Brahmins but must become emotionally engaged when it randomly gets serious when they try to rescue some Indian village boys from drowning. If The Darjeeling Ltd wasn’t filmed in Anderson’s loose, offbeat style, this would have been laughed out of cinemas. As indie auteur du jour, however, liberal sprinklings of irony go along way with some audiences. In fact, this is paperthin: a little bit surreal but ultimately silly, slight and sarcastic.
The Darjeeling Ltd displays exactly the same dry humour as Anderson’s previous work, but it is neither laugh-out-loud or darkly witty. As a Time Out reviewer put it “the comedy isn’t funny enough and the emotions not deep enough”. I can’t put it any more succinctly than that. The Amazon review describes this film as “a finely-tuned critique of American materialism, emotional vacuity, and lack of spiritualism”. But if Anderson was to be honest in showing up his fish-out-of-water American protagonists, he would not have idealised India so much. I have been to many of the locations depicted in the film, and it all looks curiously Disneyfied here. Coupled with the typical indie rock soundtrack – “ok, cue The Rolling Stones” – for instant atmosphere, this is sometimes lazy and facile filmmaking. Also, Anderson’s quirky penchant for nauseating 180-degree camera turns and crude zooms are visual jokes (for what else could be the intended effect?) that are repeated tiresomely. After a while these tricks suggest desperation on the director’s part to enliven the flat dialogue and plodding narrative.