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Criterion releases THE DARJEELING LIMITED

When Wes Anderson’s fifth film, THE DARJEELING LIMITED, came out in 2007, it was called a “precious…flawed, but nonetheless beautiful handmade object as apt to win affection as to provoke annoyance” (The New York Times). Critic A.O. Scott was talking about Anderson’s meticulously orchestrated compositions, a trademark that has steadily grown in complexity over the span of his career, just compare any shot of the train in India to the motel scenes in BOTTLE ROCKET. Every color, every piece of fabric, every accessory is exactly in its place. This obsessive attention to detail is what led many critics, like Scott, to doubt whether Anderson had a real story to tell, or whether the story was too weighed down by the trappings of an overactive art department. “Humanism lies either beyond his grasp or outside the range of his interests.”

The film chronicles the journey of the three semi-estranged Whitman brothers, Jack (Jason Schwartzman), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Francis (Owen Wilson), who has taken it upon himself to organize a tightly scheduled reunion after their father’s death, complete with pre-planned life-altering experiences. Francis’ plan, and the optimism and enthusiasm with which Wilson plays it, is one of the film’s great successes. Where some critics felt only annoyance at the brothers’ obvious wealth (Jack has spent the last year living in an opulent hotel in Paris) and their absorption with material goods, I saw their clumsy and naive attempt to share an intimate experience as a astute parody of the Western notion that travel to foreign locales guarantees permanent and meaningful change.

Take a movie like EAT PRAY LOVE that follows a wealthy Western woman floundering after a divorce. Unsure of who she is and what direction her life is taking her in, she spends a year traveling to Italy and Bali, meeting exciting people and eating new foods (she’s apparently transformed by the healing powers of that elusive, exotic dish – pasta). And guess what? Voila! She figures everything out. Her disorderly life is renewed and her mind emblazoned by a clarity one can only gain by traveling to far-away places, which means that anyone who’s feeling stuck and confused but can’t afford a year abroad is basically screwed.

It’s preposterous to insist that travel = change. It’s a nice visual metaphor, but ultimately, if you expect just being in a new place to change you for the better, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, which is exactly what Francis does when he summons his two brothers for a carefully organized soul-searching extravaganza. Their color-coordinated wardrobe and cumbersome luggage only highlights their inability to live in a world outside the ones they have constructed for themselves. Their bravados fall flat in a foreign place that has no need for their fussy, Western ways. While the trappings of wealth may be an advantage back home, in India they are as green and unknowing as children.

Whether you’re already a fan of THE DARJEELING LIMITED or have yet to become one, there’s good news. The Criterion release of the film is slated for October 12. Now your matching set of Anderson Criterions have a new friend. The DVD itself is as resplendent as the film, with the short HOTEL CHEVALIER (part one of THE DARJEELING LIMITED), original art by Eric Anderson, a behind-the-scenes documentary by Barry Braverman, and lots of little gems like a hilarious live-sound take of the three brother speaking babble as they try to board a plane (in the film a loud jet engine blocks out the sound of their voices) and ridiculously charming audition footage of one of the child actors from India singing Green Day.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED comes out October 12, 2010 from Criterion.