Saturday, 12 July 2008

The Darjeeling Limited

Lowdown: Three brothers go on an Indian bonding spiritual journey.
Now that I'm starting to write this review, I have just realized the only reason we've rented The Darjeeling Limited (DJ) DVD last night was a mistake of mine. You see, I heard it was directed by Wes Anderson, and I confused this dude with Paul Thomas Anderson of Magnolia fame. Since I liked Magnolia so much I really wanted to check DJ out. Well, it wasn't like I've wasted my time...
DJ follows the adventures of three brothers: Owen Wilson, who recently survived a bike crash; Adrien Brody, whose partner is pregnant and he doesn't know how to digest the news; and Jason Schwartzman, who still listens in to his ex girlfriend's answering machine messages. Yes, they're all messed up, and yes, they come from a highly dysfunctional family. Wilson seems to think the cure to their issues may be found in a spiritual train journey across India, and that's where the bulk of the film takes place. It's pretty safe to say the film was shot mostly if not entirely in India, and that Indian feeling of enchantment and chaos reigns supreme across DJ.
The question then becomes, will the brothers get along and sort out their issues? Well, DJ does not give its viewers an easy time acquiring answers to these questions. All sorts of weird things happen as the film progresses, like an intro by Bill Murray that seems totally disconnected to the rest of the film, or a second and a half unexplained appearance by Natalie Portman, and even a train getting lost. It all appears a mishmash of sorts and you have to manage it to the end of the film, after which you can start putting the puzzle pieces together. When you do the message becomes clearer: the film tries to advocate Indian values by trying to act like an Indian, as in messy and chaotic but very human while at it. Things are left wide open for interpretation, but I read DJ as an invitation to let go of worldly possessions and of the social ties that bind us and have a go at the Indian way of life, just marvelling at what we have in ourselves and the friends we have with us. Taking things easy.
On the way there it appears as if DJ is having a go at religion, especially Catholicism, but then again I'm pretty sure your addict Catholic would interpret things the other way around. The bottom line is that DJ appears a boring and confusing film while you watch it, making you ask "why" as you go along despite the mildly entertaining stupid comedy taking place between the various pathetic characters; after you watch it you begin analyzing it all, which is when the real fun kicks in.
Best scenes:
The first scene is when the heroes have their first spiritual stop. The train stops for an hour and a half and they go to admire and pray in this famous temple. They arrive outside and admire the temple but the first thing they do upon their arrival is go shopping. For rather ludicrous items.
The second scene is when our heroes arrive at a middle of nowhere Indian village following a convoluted set of events. The village's people live "old style": houses are open and everyone is free to roam around, as evident by the kids that go all over the place. We don't live like that anymore, although for most of humanity's history we did; we may be more advanced technologically than those poor Indians, but I sure envy their way of life.
Picture quality: Everything is washed with a yellow hue. It's obviously intentional, probably as an attempt to portray the feel of India, but it's distracting.
Sound quality: Contrary to what you may expect from a film abbreviated to "DJ", the surrounds didn't play a role and the main speakers were only utilized with the music (and a rather interesting mix of classical, rock, Indian and chanson music it is). Other than that, it was a one speaker show by the center channel.
Overall: As we've finished watching it I thought of giving DJ 2.5 stars. Since then I realized DJ is one of those films that grows on you like a good video game does (but not like wine, as never did wine grow on me). I'm ending up giving it 3 out of 5 stars, but I can easily understand much variety in the scores it receives.

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