Wes Anderson lives up to reputation

A theater full of senior citizens grumbled in disapproval as the credits rolled following the premiere of Wes Anderson’s latest film, The Darjeeling Limited. This is not a slight to the elderly – it simply reflects the fact that Wes Anderson’s cinematic voice continues to be youthful and singular.

In previous films, such as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson redefined the genre of dramedy as well as what it means to be young film auteurs in the postmodern era. Cousins Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman helped pen this particular endeavor, and the same rules apply.

Their humor is remarkably dry, and homages to obscure international directors like Truffaut, Kurosawa, Kubrick, Renoir and Bunuel abound throughout the movie.

Some audiences just don’t get it.

This film about a trio of estranged American brothers is a step forward for the director. The protagonists ride a train – whose name is borrowed in the title – throughout India on a ramshackle spiritual quest. The movie has more heart, pathos and redemption than all of Anderson’s preceding works put together. This is partly due to the religious overtones of the storyline. Death and reincarnation play subtle, important roles in the film’s climax. Just when you think the movie is suggesting that family members are simply strangers linked by blood and a false sense of obligation, Francis, Peter and Jack Whitman (played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) encounter a group of young Indian brothers trying to cross a dangerous river. Then their real spiritual journey begins.

This is not to say that The Darjeeling Limited is entirely serious. In addition to several comical cameos, Francis, Peter and Jack are truly tickling characters. They all chain-smoke cigarettes. They quarrel cleverly. They even have their own eccentric props, such as a laminating machine, a can of pepper spray and a deadly cobra. As dysfunction ensues, the multitude of prescription drugs the brothers ingest helps to lighten the mood.

In some ways The Darjeeling Limited borrows from its predecessors. Producer Scott Rudin, director of photography Robert Yeoman, production designer Mark Friedberg and costume designer Milena Canonero have returned as crew members to resurrect Anderson’s customized colors and intricate details. In other words, The Darjeeling Limited looks and sounds like the same old quirky Anderson.

One cannot help but think of the Beatles and their unsuccessful trip to India (in 1967 they tried to meet and meditate with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi). And speaking of British invaders, the soundtrack to The Darjeeling Limited features three songs by the Kinks – an underrated rock band famous for the quarrels of brothers Ray and Dave Davies. Coincidence? I think not. Anderson knows what he’s doing.

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes