catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 19 :: 2007.10.19 — 2007.11.02


Everything that rises must converge

The dressing up of Wes Anderson

There are few American film directors who elicit a unique signature all their own. Tim Burton comes to mind. Another filmmaker has emerged with such a seal and his name is Wes Anderson. This Texas native burst onto the scene in 1996 with Bottle Rocket and his other features like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou are style gems with plenty of cult appeal to say the least.

His newest number is The Darjeeling Limited, a story of three brothers on a spiritual journey. The eldest of the Whitman brothers is Francis (Owen Wilson). Having just survived a near-death experience on a motorcycle, he rekindles a connection with his brothers. Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) reunite with Francis after a year of silence when their father met his demise under the rubber of a NYC taxi-cab. Together they set out on the Darjeeling Limited train to engage in good ole sibling rivalry and revive-alry. What we discover is that Francis is a control freak, Peter carries around pieces of his father all the while running from his own fatherhood, and Jack is obsessed with his ex and resorts to answering machine voyeurism and a churning libido. The spiritual odyssey unveils Francis’ real intention, the reuniting of the brothers with their mother Patricia (Anjelica Huston) who’s now a Himalayan nun.

The train ride gives plenty of colorful shenanigans, bucolic landscapes, and baggage not merely in the overhead. Anderson’s semi-autobiographical trek displays his typical flair for fresh and cool. Some want more. Others hold back the gag-reflex. Whatever your taste, you have to admire this comedic train-flick for its dramatic flair in such a confined space. Anderson’s ability to discourse satirically about spoiled affluence frames sibling shenanigans with great gusto. We get something similar and something new. We get shoeless and one-shoed characters, flower garland and pink boxers, and a plethora of suitcases which house only fresh versions of the same uniform outfits.

Limited features a script by collaborative-happy Anderson alongside actor Schwartzman and his cousin Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford and brother to Sofia. It also features Anderson staples Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston coupled with the variegated creativity of production designer Mark Friedberg, the lens of Robert Yeoman, and the eccentric wit of Anderson’s mind. Lost in the national release, and what will most certainly resurface again, is a prologue vignette entitled “Hotel Chevalier” featuring Jack and his infamous ex (Natalie Portman) in a Parisian hotel. Limited recalls the spirit of Jean Renoir’s Le Fleuve (The River) but with a voice only Anderson can utter. 

What we find in artists like Anderson and Burton and most assuredly via other artistic conventions like Robert Altman dialogue, Oliver Stone’s peculiarities, or Tony Scott’s jagged action is signature. It’s something you see and you immediately identify. There seems to be an uncanny ability by Wes to dress up ennui stories with funk and spunk. Much like my daughter’s dress up box under the bed, prepared at any moment for a fantastical journey, Anderson provides us with stories that break the mold and recasts them with sporadic items from such a box. In other words, stories are a mode of dress up for us. They allow us to catch bigger fish, minimize shame or guilt, and ultimately live vicariously through our fantasies.

It was as I was reading Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge” that I was struck with this sense of story’s affect. It’s in our daily digressions of passing time or supine with insomnia that we trek down these trails and dress up. O’Connor details Julian and his mother for us. Julian’s mother wore a monstrosity of a hat and Julian saw her as someone who “lived according to the laws of her own fantasy world.” In the brewing of his frustration our story offers us a voice to resonate with and a metaphor for what narrative dressing up can do:

Behind the newspaper Julian was withdrawing into the inner compartment of his mind where he spent most of his time. This was kind of a mental bubble in which he established himself when he could not bear to be a part of what was going on around him. From it he could see out and judge but in it he was safe from any kind of penetration from without. It was the only place where he felt free of the general idiocy of his fellows.

Whatever story we might consume, whether formal or informal, we embark on a walk of dressing up our life and its sweet and hereafter moments.

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